Cardboard Citizen’s current production at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith tells the story of one man, Prosper (Ansu Kabia), discovering his history and a sense of identity. Left in a Brixton commune and raised by Rastafarians, Prosper has no-one; no family, no papers, no home. In his sessions with counsellor and psychologist Mary (Johanna Allit), he tells her of his dreams, full of voices and faces he doesn’t know, dreams in which dogs appear constantly. Little does he know, as he begins his search for mother, people and lost homeland, what connections await him.

Set parallel to Prosper’s tale is that of Stuart Barber, a US Navy planner with a childhood passion for desert islands, working at the height of the Cold War-paranoia period. As the US and UK start to fear losing control of the Suez Canal, they want a new permanent military base somewhere strategically important; Barber suggests the Chagos Islands, halfway between Africa and India, remote and, they believe, with no native population to draw the attention of the military and the US President.

The piece, written and directed by Adrian Jackson, is told out of chronological order, but each place and date is indicated to help the audience locate the scene within the narrative. The stage space is broad, which leaves the action spread across too wide a space for viewing comfort in at least some of the scenes. The company plays with depth, using white and black gauze curtains for projection and for division; rolling screens are used to obscure and reveal action. Both are beautiful ideas and, at points, extremely effective. The overall effect however, was slightly messy and slowed momentum – at times my focus was pulled away from the actors and drawn instead to the gauze or screen being drawn on- or off-stage. The second half’s message is diluted by an uncomfortable-looking group of skeletons dancing to ‘Dem Bones’, along with a fantasy scene where Prospero appears on Desert Island Discs; again, this is a good idea – with a very well executed Kirsty Young impression – but as it stands felt extraneous to the central, already powerful, narrative. At two hours and 45 minutes,  it is also a mite too long – an interval of nearly half an hour can surely be shortened – but they have several weeks to run and the piece will tighten up as they continue.

The mix of the fictional (Prosper, his counsellor Mary, her conservationist husband) and the fact (Stuart Barber is just one of a large number of genuine historical characters who played a part in the de-population and militarisation of the Chagos) makes me feel slightly shifty talking about A Few Man Fridays using words like ‘narrative’ or ‘plot’; yes, the tale is semi-fictionalised to create a workable dramatic piece but for those Chagossians who until very recently were chasing their claim to their lost land through the UK and EU legal systems it is much, much more than ‘just’ history. To emphasise this the production team must have worked around the clock delving into archives for text, TV footage and  sound recordings of the Chagossian community, of which plenty are included (and some of which can be seen on Youtube – search for “A Few Man Fridays”). If you like Robinson Crusoe, if you like The Tempest, then there is something here for you. If you like your theatre political then A Few Man Fridays is definitely one to see. From the Cold War, the Suez Crisis, Thatcher, the Falkland Islands to Palestinian refugees and Blair taking the UK into Iraq, all of these issues are in the background creating a rich tapestry woven of injustice, hypocrisy and loss; a tale of  the powerful against the powerless, the big silencing the small, and in this case, a tale made for theatre to tell.

A Few Man Fridays is playing at the Riverside Studios. For more information and tickets, see the Riverside Studios website.