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Neville’s Island: A soul searching adventure that produces huge laughs

| Theatre | 09/12/2014

Neville's Island at the Duke of York Theatre
Neville's Island at the Duke of York Theatre

Tim Firth’s Chichester transfer of Neville’s Island to the West End is a revelation that thoroughly entertains. This is a versatile production exploring the implications of being left marooned and isolated on a Cumbrian island. This is a soul-searching production, with a talented cast, and a remarkable stage design. Whether Neville’s Island is the West End’s new hit comedy is debatable; nevertheless, it provides many laugh-out-loud moments, and with the cast it has there was never any doubts that a night at the Duke of York’s theatre would be nothing more than a delight.

The play is centred on four corporate workers from the Salford Water Mineral Company who are spending the weekend at a team building exercise in Cumbria, who soon find themselves marooned, stranded, and completely clueless on an island in the Lake District; with no hope of rescue, these four men are left at the mercy of nature. What follows next is a narration of the torrid and turbulent experience our four corporate workers endure. They argue, they fight, and one of them even finds consolation in God –this is a soul searching adventure that reveals more about their lives then they could have imagined.

Neville's Island at the Duke of York Theatre

Neville’s Island at the Duke of York Theatre

The action takes place on a remarkably naturalistic, lush and authentic forest stage design -it’s cold, it’s damp, and it’s even raining on-stage. Robert Innes Hopkins has created an atmosphere in which the actors revel in; the stage is complete with pools of dirty water which all four seem to love splashing around in especially on their entrances. There are trees hanging overhead, swathed in a deep mist and surrounded by a pebble beach. The lakeshore design is the ideal setting for the clueless four to attempt survival.

If the set design is the most remarkable aspect of Firth’s production, then the four main leads could be nothing more than a subsidiary factor. But that’s simply not the case; led by Neil Morrissey as ailing team leader Neville, with Adrian Edmondson as the stern and brutally honest Gordon, Robert Webb as the Anglican and keen bird-watcher Roy, and finally, Miles Jupp as the middle class and extremely insecure Angus, this is a talented and experienced cast.

Neville's Island at the Duke of York Theatre

Neville’s Island at the Duke of York Theatre

Morrissey you feel is somewhat let down by a quite monotonous and one-dimensional script that failed to bring out his acting qualities and places him in the forest background. Whilst, Edmondson as the overbearing sharp tongue Gordon feels at times slightly exaggerated aimed at constantly getting a response from the audience. Webb after his stint in The Play That Goes Wrong finds another role ideally suited to him; Webb is able to delve into Roy’s dark life and his history of mental illness after the death of his wife in a manner that brings out the vulnerability of Roy.

Jupp is both plausible and believable as Angus and produces numerous laugh-out-loud moments –several involving his Mary Poppins style rucksack packed with everything a camping store sells. Despite the adequate acting the play seems to be in a muddle and lacking direction. In a sense it’s as if it’s not only the four corporates who are lost and marooned, the play fails to find its feet in Hopkins misty and damp set.

Neville’s Island sharply exploits the desperation of its four protagonists in a manner that is entertaining. Whether it can go down as a West End comedy great is debatable. Nevertheless, for what it is, it is a remarkable production and Firth has produced a great show that is restricted by its script that thinly spreads the action over two hours, and a somewhat inevitable and predictable narrative. Neville’s Island is a credible production and as far as I know it’s the only one where it rains indoors!

Written by Sandip Kana | @sandipkana

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