Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
“Neville’s Island” by Tim Firth
Directed by Richard Parish
Presented by The Lighted Fools at the Mill Studio, Guildford
The Mill Studio’s intimate space turned out to be a perfect home for this play with four-man cast, castaways on a tiny foggy island in winter in the middle of Derwentwater. It didn’t matter that the fog couldn’t be manifested (on the previous night it had precipitated a full-scale fire alarm and evacuation of the building, we were told!) Tim Firth’s excellent writing of his characters was complemented by the acting skills of the Lighted Fools, a company amateur in name only.
From the start we’re laughing as these middle-aged, middle-class middle managers (as Angus the finance manager moans) struggle to deal with the physical problems and the even more challenging psychological problems of the “team-building” exercise that their Salford employers have set up.
Being shipwrecked on a cold desert island with no food or shelter is a genuine test of the four men’s co-operation, particularly for Gordon (David Webb), self-made man, individualist and bully, who reluctantly bears responsibility for having lost the team’s provision of food in the lake.
Team-leader Neville, the marketing manager (David Hemsley-Brown), is an instinctive peace-maker faced with ever more pressure to protect the team as Gordon verbally attacks his team-mates: repressed, socially inept Angus (Graham Collier) and the fragile Christian, Roy (Nick Lund), who is intent only on bird-watching and praying, it seems.
Angus’ rucksack is a cornucopia of everything they might need, except food: camping gadgets, cooking utensils, a self-lighting stove (which he only thinks to reveal after hours of boy-scout fire-lighting technique have failed) and a large knife that we guess will play a decisive part in the play’s dénouement. He even carries a flare – but there’s a firework display on the Derwent shore! Their troubled sleep is disturbed by the lights of the ferry – but the karaoke on board drowns their cries for help. As the old saying goes, everything in their favour is against them!
Suspense mounts in the second half as these disparate characters interact ever more desperately with each other and the unfamiliar environment. The humour is wonderful and the dénouement is unexpected and yet totally in tune with the tragi-comic tone of the rest of the play.
I’ll give away no more. Go and see the Lighted Fools, wherever they present “Neville’s Island.” The professionals at the Duke of York’s Theatre, where it’s still playing in London, can do no better than this.