Lads on the Island
03/02/2024 - 02/03/2024
by Sam Brooks
Directed by Nī Dekkers-Reihana (Ngāi Tuteauru, Ngā Puhi)
Circa Theatre and A Mulled Whine
A comedy of alchemy and errors.
A comedy of magic, mezcal, and mates.
Ariel and Prospero are just a couple of lads. A couple of lads who really love each other (but not like that). A couple of lads bound to one another – on an island of their own enchanting. Stubborn Prospero is going through a break-up, so Ariel is left to pick up the pieces. They muster up the essentials for survival: chips, booze and an acoustic guitar.
Larger than life characters collide with striking sincerity on a backdrop of impressive illusions, stunning design, and reimaginings of New Zealand classic tracks. Lads on the Island is a sharply-written ode to friendship – the messy but magic kind.
The premiere season of a new work by multi award-winning playwright Sam Brooks (Burn Her) and starring two breakout stars of the 2022-23 season – Reon Bell (Flames, Wednesday to Come) and Finley Hughes (Pinocchio).
A new New Zealand classic, inspired (very loosely) by Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
“A playwright who creates juicily complex characters” – Theatre Scenes
CIRCA TWO, at Circa Theatre
3 February – 2 March 2023
7:30pm Tue – Sat,
Tickets $30 – $55
Prospero - Finley Hughes
Ariel - Reon Bell (Ngāti Whitikaupeka, Tūwharetoa)
Sycorax, Miranda, Fern & Sebastian - Bronwyn Ensor
Set Design - Lucas Neal
Light & Special Effects Design - Michael Trigg
Sound Design - Matt Asunder
Stage Manager - Marshall Rankin
Technical Operator - Wren Glover
Producer & Publicist - Eleanor Strathern
Production Assist - Htoo Paw Thin, Klara Talantseva
Friendships and relationships explored ...
Review by Sarah Catherall 11th Feb 2024
A predictable ending to this latest work by playwright Sam Brooks would be for the two lads isolating on an island to fall in love. You might expect the heterosexual character, Prospero, played by Finley Hughes, to realise that he actually is in love with his gay best friend Ariel, played by Reon Bell.
Lads on the Island teases us with this idea; as we watch Ariel acting like a quasi-therapist as he aids his friend after a relationship break-up via beer, magic and an acoustic guitar.
It doesn’t really matter if you know the Shakespearean play The Tempest which acts like a vehicle for Brooks’ play. [More]
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
An exceptional production of a literally extra-ordinary play
Review by John Smythe 04th Feb 2024
Two hours before ‘lights up’ on Lads on the Island, a southerly squall hit Wellington complete with thunder claps – an appropriate curtain raiser for a play that takes flight from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
On the face of it, a play about a couple of blokes isolating on an island so one can support the other through a relationship breakup, medicating the pain with “chips, booze and an acoustic guitar”, looks like an unlikely story for playwright Sam Brooks to tell. Except the Lads’ names are Prospero and Ariel. And anyone familiar with Brooks’ proliferation of plays will know to expect the unexpected.
In the pre-set, Lucas Neal’s stepped rock set instantly intrigues. Nestling into its contours are a beer fridge, reading lamp, road cone, guitar, bong, bits of fabric and books – one prominent: The Friendship Book. All is shrouded in translucent fabric.
To start the show, Technical Operator Wren Glover conjures up a storm with Michael Trigg’s Light & Special Effects Design and Matt Asunder’s Sound Design. There’s a magical feel to the way mist clears to reveal the two best friends. Questions arise as to which of them created it and whether it was a storm or tempest.
In The Tempest, Prospero has told Ariel to conjure up the eponymous tempest. When his daughter Miranda pleads, “If by your art, my dearest father, you have / Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them”, he assures her no harm has been done, “I have done nothing, but in care of thee.” This evokes pages of exposition as to why they now live on this island.
Fortunately Brooks leaves the reveal to much later, when we really want to know what brought the Lads here. Meanwhile, as Ariel keeps pulling beers from the magic fridge, we are free to indulge our inquisitiveness as to the nature of this relationship. Reon Bell’s Ariel is as clearly gay and Finley Hughes’ Prospero is not although their reset button throughout is to say, “I love you.” – “(but not like that)” according to the publicity blurb.
The question of what binds them, or who is bound to whom, is made manifest when Prospero places an apparently immovable ruffle bracelet on Ariel’s wrist. This also echoes their relationship in Shakespeare’s play although there’s a twist at the end to subvert and amuse those of us who think we’ve sussed the parallels.
Prior knowledge of The Tempest plot is advantageous. I might have added “but not necessary” until I become aware, post show, that some punters with no awareness of the source are more bewildered than intrigued, not least by the random quotes from Shakespeare’s text that are sprinkled throughout. Brooks does, however, have a visiting character critique the “impenetrable language” (more of them later). As for the running references to Cheryl Cole (singer and TV personality) and Lucy Liu (actress), the import of them escapes me but clearly amuses others in audience.
As in The Tempest, there is ambiguity around who is the true magician-cum-sorcerer. Certainly this Prospero has a winning parlour trick with plucking flowers from thin air – which his ex, Fern, apparently appreciated – and he does seem to impose a force-field around his sanctuary to keep Ariel in and others out. But it’s Ariel who illuminates features on their rock with a click of his fingers and waves his hands above the empty fridge to refresh its contents, two bottles at a time. And both can apparently consume their contents without becoming inebriated. Thus ‘magic realism’ elevates what could be a prosaic mateship story to a much more entertaining level.
Hughes’ distraught but emotionally closed-down Prospero tests the patience of Bell’s ever-loyal (or is he trapped?) Ariel by being an arrant arsehole, but balances it with the qualities Brooks incorporates to ensure their friendship survives the squalls. Bell’s impressively resilient Ariel – who has sidelined his relationship with boyfriend Sebastian to meet the needs of his best mate – commands our empathy, not least by refusing to play the victim and keeping us guessing where the true power lies. A running debate about whether Sherlock Holmes or Dr Watson is the smarter amplifies that question regarding the Lads.
The complex chemistry that infuses their relationship and produces unpredictable results, both dramatic and comical, is exquisitely explored by Bell and Hughes with their Director, Nī Dekkers-Reihana. While many of us may not have experienced or observed a relationship quite like this one before, it touches on universal truths about friendship and love that resonate throughout. We may not have been there, yet it feels familiar.
Insights into the Lads’ real lives before they washed up on this fantasy island are revealed by four visitations, all played out by the wondrously versatile Bronwyn Ensor. Miranda, who is Prospero’s sister here (because being his daughter would have made this a whole other story), brings food and contends with mixed loyalties between her friendship with Fern and her bond with her brother. Sebastian turns up needing to know what his boyfriend Ariel is up to with Prospero, and why. Both visits tease out the play’s enquiry into love and friendship.
The dramatic arrival of Arial’s mother transcends the barriers the others faced. “This might be your island but it’s my domain,” she reminds them. We have to refer to the programme to realise her name is Sycorax, and those in the know will recall she is the witch who imprisoned Arial in a tree until Prospero turned up and she released the sprite into his service. How’s that for the basis of this mother-son relationship? Its complexities are superbly rendered by Ensor and Bell. Sycorax is witheringly judgemental about her son and his friend but wants “the gruesome details” of what has happened and what they’re up to.
Only after she has left does Prospero finally open up about the break-up with Fern – and what a revelation that is. It would be a spoiler to detail it here. Suffice to say it offers an astonishing insight into how low self-esteem and failure to take responsibility for our own actions while blaming others can make us our own worst enemies. This makes Prospero a ‘tragic hero’: the cause of his own downfall.
Ensor’s fourth incarnation is as Fern, the ex who is returning Prospero’s belongings. Even more than the encounters with Miranda and Sebastian, this scene grounds the play in an objective reality that offsets the subjective realm of the Lads’ incarceration.
The musical interludes feel incidental, with Bell singing beautifully to Hughes’ guitar, until “Full fathom five …”, quoting Ariel’s song from The Tempest, introduces their lusty rendition of a Kiwi classic. A fitting finale.
Nī Dekkers-Reihana and their creative team have done Sam Brooks proud with this world premiere – an exceptional production of a literally extra-ordinary play. I predict a long life for Lads on the Island in theatres around the world.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer