Interview With…Toby Hulse

We spoke to the writer and director about This Island’s Mine, which will tour the UK from the 19th September.

(c)Robin Hemmings

Hi Toby could you explain what This Island’s Mine is about? The play is essentially a sequel to The Tempest by William Shakespeare, and imagines what might happen after the events of the original play. Caliban has been living alone on the island for five years, and has made it his home; Stephano, who is promised during The
Tempest that he can be king of the island, returns to it, looking to make a new home after losing his job in Italy; and Ariel, the magical spirit of the island, is seeking to protect it from change and human influence. It’s a play about home, and ownership, and colonialism,designed to make the audience think and ask questions. It’s also very funny, and contains some seriously catchy songs.

How did the idea for the show come about? I studied The Tempest at A level, and have loved it ever since. Alongside its themes of forgiveness and reconciliation, it is a really interesting debate about colonisation and
civilisation, written at a time when Europeans were first exploring and exploiting the Americas, the Indies and the Far East. I first had the idea for This Island’s Mine when I was directing The Tempest for the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. In rehearsals the actor playing Stephano asked me why the character wouldn’t just stay on the island, and be king, and it started a little something ticking in my brain. As I worked on other theatre projects about migration and refugees, the ticking became a tocking, and here we are. This Island’s Mine is the perfect way of exploring the themes of The Tempest further, from a post-colonial perspective, and in a form suitable for a modern family audience.

It must have been a fascinating experience to put it together – particularly when gathering
thoughts from students?
Absolutely. The play was written after many sessions in schools, working and talking with young people aged from seven to eighteen. I was thrilled with how articulate, thoughtful
and informed everyone I met was, and the script is undeniably informed by everything that they shared with me. What was particularly interesting was how young people of different ages approached the issues so differently. The play was written before the first lockdown, and the events of the last eighteen months have thrown its themes into a new and very interesting light, as we have become more aware of the importance of our own homes, and connected globally with others sharing the same problems. Another major shift in the relevance of the play was the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd, particularly here in Bristol where the toppling of the Colston statue highlighted the contemporary relevance of what might be seen as historical past.

How does it feel to be taking This Island’s Mine on tour? We are touring to both theatres and schools, and I am so looking forward to sharing it with as wide an audience as possible, both family groups, and students. Taking the play into schools is the next part of the conversation I started with my research, and I hope it will inspire these incredible humans to think about how they can make their societies better and fairer places.

What do you hope that audiences will take away from it? At the start of the play we ask the audience to ‘Stop, reflect, and ask yourself, could this world be like mine?’ If they are doing this as they leave the theatre, having laughed and been thrilled by the story, then we will be very happy.

What have you taken away from creating This Island’s Mine? We start each day of rehearsals asking ourselves the questions that we will be asking students in the educational resource, questions such as ‘Where do you come from?’, ‘Why do human beings educate each other?’ and ‘What does it mean to be civilised?’ These conversations have been fascinating, and have allowed us all to think about the cultural assumptions that underpin our points of view. The joy comes from finding ways of exploring these ideas in the playful and imaginative way that live theatre allows.

By Emma Clarendon

To find out more about This Island’s Mine by visiting:

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