Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Theatre review: Neville's Island

Plugging a couple of months' hole in the Duke of York's programme is a seemingly last-minute transfer from Chichester: Neville's Island, Tim Firth's spoof of "stranded in nature" stories like Lord of the Flies. Four middle-managers from a Salford mineral water company are on a team-building expedition in the Lake District, but having elected Neville (Neil Morrissey) as team captain, he misreads the instructions and lands them on a tiny, uninhabited island downriver. Thanks to Angus' (Miles Jupp) seemingly bottomless rucksack they have no end of supplies, except for anything they might actually need - like food. After Roy (Robert Webb) had a nervous breakdown followed by a religious conversion, the others treat him with kid gloves in fear of setting him off again; everyone except Gordon (Adrian Edmondson) that is, whose default reaction to everything is sarcasm and disdain.

The immediate star of Angus Jackson's production is Robert Innes Hopkins' set, densely forested and surrounded by a ring of mucky water - I spotted people covered in plastic sheets in the "splash zone" of the front stalls, and it's little surprise that it's Ade Edmondson who makes the most effort to soak the audience.

The cast are all good as well, although the highlight is Webb's sweetly demented Roy. And it's nice to see that Miles Jupp hasn't been woefully miscast like he was the last time I saw him on stage. It's not Edmondson's fault, but Gordon is just too relentlessly miserable and destructive - one of those characters who's meant to irritate the others but just ends up irritating the audience.

There's nothing really wrong with Neville's Island, and a few really good moments: After a protracted gag where the one remaining sausage looks like it'll be lost, the visual punchline Firth eventually comes up with is pretty brilliant. And Jackson's production is slick and well-cast, but overall manages smiles where it feels like it should be getting big laughs. How amused do you like to be? If the answer is "mildly" then this is the show for you.

Neville's Island by Tim Firth is booking until the 3rd of January at the Duke of York's Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.

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