Neville’s Island was the first play penned by author Tim Firth in 1992 and was originally commissioned by Alan Ayckbourn . Firth later found fame with Calendar Girls, and was a contemporary of Nick Hancock and David Badiel, and the script has a 90’s tint to it. The four handed, all male, cast, finds itself stranded, in somewhat contrived circumstances on a Lake District island after a corporate team bonding expedition goes wrong, working its way through comedy , horror, satire and psychological thriller.
John Islip and his stage team will be delighted to have won the first round of applause of the night as the lights went up on a carefully crafted, dendritic heavy, single set. A forest of conifers were denied their Christmas date with destiny , and silver birches swayed, lending a physical verisimilitude, augmented by some particularly effective camouflage nets. The play’s title alludes to Devils Island, but in truth there is little threatening about their surroundings nor is there the menace which laced the film Deliverance, which explored similar themes, some twenty years earlier.
The advantage of the small single island set is an innate sense of claustrophobia, the down side is the action is inevitably confined and static. Currently Bear Grylls is leading a survival series entitled The Island in which two teams of women and men are stranded on separate islands and have to fend for themselves, the team dynamics between the play and television programmes are not dissimilar. The play opens with the protagonists dripping from a wrecked boat, but the show is no damp squib. The mists roll in, contact with land is lost, blood appears, and tempers fray.
Three of the actors are on stage for the whole of the production, only one disappearing briefly, making this quite a demanding show for the players. Rod Bissett does well with the awkward part of Neville whose job it is to try to keep everybody calm as team leader. Ben Field has the most interesting part as Roy , a Christian and ornithologist, dealing with the after effects of a nervous breakdown after losing his mother, combining pathos with comedy in hugely demanding circumstances.
The irritant in the team is Dan Goodreid who is first-rate as Gordon: he presents us with the archetypal party-pooper who, having neither a domestic life nor identity of his own, achieves fulfilment by destroying other people’s. Office geek Angus, played by Phillip Beadsmoore, writhes likably as the uxorious Angus , plagued by fears of an errant wife whilst carrying equipment consistent with an assault on Everest rather than a Lake District weekend away. But this is an ensemble piece and every actor works hard to produce a team production rather than grandstanding their own comic cameos.
Act One is a fairly light –hearted and frothy affair, as the men become accustomed to their new surroundings, but the second Act veers into darker territory as adversity fails to bring the best out of them. The plot can be a little clunky. It is difficult to be cut off from the rest of the world in the Lake District, and the one dead mobile phone, and waters around their island supposedly infested with deadly pike, require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief.
Director Joanne Ellis squeezes the most out of the comedy with the fate of their only sausage at prayer the comic highlight of the evening. Generically, the laughs are of the Men Behaving Badly variety, but Joanne has left the original script intact save for a few minor tweaks and the laughs hold out well. A particular mention should go to Ben Field who had to assume the part of Roy at a few hours notice, following the original actor’s indisposition. He acquitted himself with considerable distinction, ably supported by director and cast.
An appreciative audience enjoyed an entertaining show which runs till Saturday 9th May.