As drama Tim Firth’s two hour piece doesn’t really meet the usual tests. Plot development is almost non-existent. We start in the middle and pretty much finish there. Neville and his three fellow middle management characters are introduced at the point where they get stranded on an island on Derwentwater during a team bonding exercise and the whole play is a series of episodes dealing with their failed attempts to provide for themselves/get themselves rescued. There is a resolution of sorts but it comes, literally, out of the blue in the final seconds rather than arising out of the plot. We are also teased with references to a period of mental illness – and a mysterious person called Lucy – in the past of one of the characters but when this is finally explained the resolution, again, is not commensurate with the anticipation. There isn’t much by way of thematic exploration either – in fact I found my mind, during the performance, wondering why some corporations think it’s a good idea to send staff off on adventures for which most of them are probably not suited.
Characterisation was rather more substantial. I felt I knew these characters well enough – in most cases well enough to know I didn’t want to get to know them better – by the end. I suppose you could say that a major theme was the exploration of the various ways people, specifically insecure people, deal with stress. The incompetent Neville (Neil Morrissey) concentrates on his duty as team leader to divert attention from his personal trepidation; the cossetted, invincibly middle class, Angus (Miles Jupp) draws comfort from the fact that he’s packed every gadget the Outdoors shop’s salesperson could persuade him to buy into his top-of-the-range rucksack; Roy (Robert Webb), the one with the mental health issues, has found god, on whom he relies heavily and also takes comfort in the fact that, for an ornithologist like him, this environment has its compensations; and the obnoxious Gordon (Adrian Edmondson) masks his own insecurity by relentlessly mocking everyone else – especially Roy.
The good things about this production are: firstly, the lack of any real depth allows four good comic actors (with, I’m sure it’s not unfair to say, little form for anything else) to play to their strengths - the dialogue is pretty funny and very well delivered; and, secondly, the set is remarkably good. When a play is set on an island where nature has been allowed to run wild you don’t really expect the set designer to go for verisimilitude; but this set is remarkably realistic. In fact, for those planning to avail themselves of £15 day seats a warning is in order. These seats are in the front row and you will get wet. The theatre provides ponchos to keep you reasonably dry but at some points the effect is more akin to having a small pot of water thrown straight at you than the light spray you sometimes get in the yard of the Globe. The woman sitting next to me was fully covered by her poncho but still found her £4 programme was sodden when she stood up at the end. The front row also suffers from a rather high stage. If you’re of average height you won’t miss much but unless you’re incredibly tall you won’t be able to see small items at ground level.
Recommended for people who will settle for a reasonably entertaining experience delivered by actors who are undoubtedly good at this kind of thing. You shouldn’t have much trouble getting the aforementioned day seats or any others: but note that it closes very early in January.http://www.boxoffice.co.uk/arts-and-theatre-tickets/plays/nevilles-island-tickets.aspx