Islands | Q&A with John Biddle

Next up in our series of interviews with the cast of Islands, we caught up with brilliant John Biddle who plays Agent.


Can you tell us in your own words what Islands is about?
People who’ve got so high on the rush of success and the thrill of winning, they’ve completely forgotten their own humanity. Or, tax havens.

Can you describe the making process?
A long process of playing and learning. Once Caroline had had the strange and inspired idea of looking at this subject through the ugliness of bouffon, it seemed important for us to play a lot as a gang, find our own brand of mischief, vulgarity, anarchy. Then, we’d be hearing from someone about the dry realities of offshore finance, and would suddenly think ‘hang on, that’s just like the disgusting game we played this morning.’

What have been the major things you’ve discovered during the making process?
The power of a metaphor to (potentially) shine a brighter light on a subject than all the facts and stats ever could. I’m aware that perhaps the discovery here is personal, that it works better for me that way; it wouldn’t be true for everyone and that’s great.

I’ve also discovered that once you’ve found the right pair of heels, they just get comfier and comfier.

Any favourite moments from the rehearsal room or on preview tour?
Improvisation has been a huge part of this thing, and you hit a lot of walls before you find a way through. But I’ll never forget one stage along the way to finding what Eve’s rage for a certain moment might look/feel/sound like, and we all got Hannah dressed up, almost submerged, in random bits of costume and props, and then riled and baited her until out exploded this terrifying, hilarious, prophetic, lunatic creature that taught us all a lot about the heart of this show.

It can be tricky and sensitive trying to provoke those moments, but Hannah’s pretty sensational.

And can you tell us a bit about the character you play?
I play Agent, god’s number two facilitator. I guess if we’re all somewhere across the five characters, he’s a pretty frightening one. He’s smart, cruel, conniving – he’s definitely let his brain trample all over his heart.

What are you most enjoying about Islands’ run at the Bush?
Seeing the show grow through the run as we find exactly the experience we want to give. Conversations in the bar with people the show worked for and those it didn’t.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the play?
Questions really. The subject’s too big, too messy, frankly too difficult, to offer any answers. But I hope the show will provoke people to enquire.
It’s not a sermon though – I hope people will have had a lot of laughs too.

Tax avoiders make their own rules and the consequences are often devastating. Let’s even it up. What rules would you have on your island?
Smiles would have a market value.
And if you want to talk any bullshit, that’s fine, but you have to sing it to a jaunty melody. That’ll teach them.