Further Than the Furthest Thing
BY Zinnie Harris
DIRECTOR. Jennifer Tang
9 Mar 2023 - 29 Apr 2023
MaRCH 18th, 2023
ALL images © Marc Brenner
Walking through the doors on your way to take your seats in the Main Room at the Young Vic, the audience is met with the soft sounds of waves crashing ever so gently against a shore. George Dennis’ effective sound design really becomes transportive.
A community that is wary of the outside world and has learned to survive even the toughest situations is explored in Scottish playwright Zinne Harris’ Further Than the Furthest Thing. Bill, Cyril Nri, and Mill, Jenna Russell, are happy to see their nephew Francis, Archie Madekwe, who has been away for a while and has returned with a surprise, Mr. Hansen, Gerald Kyd. Initially, Bill and Mill are unsure of Mr. Hansen, who proceeds to do some tricks that impress but never fool Mill. A volcano erupts, forcing the islanders to be evacuated for their protection to Southampton, England, where they start work in Mr. Hansen's glass jar factory.
In 1961, the real eruption on Tristan da Cunha led to the evacuation of all the island's inhabitants. And it is this historical event that serves as loose inspiration for Harris’ who powerfully captures an island life that is harsh and that is filled with difficult experiences but is a life that is cherished by the inhabitants.
Told in two acts, the second act being much stronger than the first, Harris’ text is long and it is this length that gives the piece its substance. This isn’t a play that should be interpreted as the new society versus the old, or a simple island way of life and the story of an island community being forced into modernity. At the heart of this piece are a people who know what leaving their island life means—it means the end of this special, simple, but fulfilling existence that they love, that gives them life. They have been forced to leave, which only compounds their frustration and helplessness, as they inevitably get exploited by people meant to help them. It is a story of what the real meaning of home means.
"The strength, determination, and devotion to her life on the island are admirable and powerfully relatable. This is not just their home or way of life; the island represents something much more profound to the islanders; it is their unique place in this world."
The opening scene, in which Bill is caught up in the waves and is "saved," magically captures the uniqueness of this production. The inclusion of a live vocalist, Shapla Salique, adds more depth and beauty to the piece, giving the production additional heart and soul. It would have been easy for director Jennifer Tang to have Salique’s moments pre-recorded, but placing her at the very centre of the opening scene grounds the moment and adding more mystique to this island life that they have created. This moment also unites the creative elements of set designer Soutra Gilmour, Prema Mehta’s lighting, Ian William Galloway’s video design, and George Dennis’s sound. Their ingenuity creates an island feel that connects with the audience, and with very few props and the full use of the theatre-in-the-round, one is able to become fully immersed.
The relationship between Bill and Mill is vital not just to the story but to the flow of the piece, with both Nri and Russell proving to have a deep and involved chemistry that brings their characters to life and creates moments of truth and emotional relevancy that are captivating. So too is the relationship between Francis and his aunt and uncle; whereas Mill has a really deep connection with her nephew, Bill seems distracted, and there is a visible lack of a bond between them.
Madekwe plays Francis with a level of authenticity that helps to highlight the difficult situation that Francis finds himself in. Like many young men and women on remote islands the call of the city, of a new home away from the trials of island their experience are all too common. Young men like Francis are seen as the future guardians of that special island way of life but he’s torn. In Francis final scene with Rebecca, Kirsty Rider, Madekwe infuses a lot of emotion into his character. At times, you can hear the inflection of Francis island accent as he pronounces specific words, and you can sense the gravity of the situation he finds himself in. It is at this point that Madekwe gives his role weight, portraying a young man caught between two lives and two places who is confused of where to go as he begs Rebecca to tell him what to do.
It is in Mill that Harris’s story is anchored. The strength, determination, and devotion to her life on the island are admirable and powerfully relatable. This is not just their home or way of life; the island represents something much more profound to the islanders; it is their unique place in this world. During Mill’s audience with Mr. Hansen, where she describes what happened on the island before ‘the baptisms’, you feel the magnitude of every word she says, her experiences, and the guilt put on the shoulders of her beloved Bill. Gilmour's rotating stage allows everyone the audience the opportunity to see and hear what Mill has to say with this scene being delivered with utter conviction and honesty from Russell.
What is it all for? Why does Mill fight Mr. Hansen so much to return to their island? As he sits with Mill, trying to convince her that the ‘new life’ that they have in England is better than the harsh realities of life on the island, the audience would not be remiss in perhaps siding with Mr. Hansen. Is Mill too stubborn for her own good? One can ponder this for a long time, but it’s only when we see Mill back on the island that we understand why she was so determined to get back. Both Mehta's lighting and Galloway’s video design beautifully capture this moment of Mill, under the protection of the pitch-black night sky lit only by the stars and surrounded by the sound of the waves.
She is home; this is her place in this wild and crazy world.