Review: Neville’s Island, Duke of York’s Theatre, London, West End

Posted on 12 December 2014
By Angela Johnson
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Neville’s Island, currently enjoying a run at the Duke of York’s theatre, proves to be a rather immersive experience, for the audience as well as actors. Real trees, craggy rocks and a convincing moat surrounding the front of the stage make for a realisitic recreation of typical Lake District weather. A curtain of drizzle pours down onto the stage even before the action begins.

One of the show’s stars, Adrian Edmonson, has summed Neville’s Island up as ‘Lord of the Flies’ meets ‘The Office’. It’s an accurate comparison, although I didn’t quite expect to find real flies buzzing around the auditorium, and my nostrils met with the dank smell of stale water as I entered. It’s not that unpleasant, though, and the front row are even handed anoraks to keep dry. Similar provisions were seen in the staging of Singin’ In The Rain, but Neville’s Island is about as far from the typical chorus line you can get. Well, aside the players flashing a vast amount of leg and nipple in one scene but it’s all tastefully done, and highly necessary for the characters’ survival.

In Tim Firth’s revived production, first staged in 1992, we meet four middle-aged middle managers who get ‘shipwrecked’ during a team-building exercise, finding safety on a tiny island so small it wouldn’t even be plotted on a map. Each actor arrives on stage soaked to the skin and takes it turns to shower the audience with their stage presence, and excess moisture, from the off.

Neil Morrissey stars as Neville, the group’s inept and rather insignificant leader. Robert Webb is Roy ‘The Christian’, earnestly religious, keen on birdwatching, with a somewhat mysterious history of mental illness. Those used to seeing Webb romping as the feckless, selfish Jeremy in sitcom Peep Show will be impressed by his true range of acting skills with which he undoubtedly steals the show.

Miles Jupp is the insecure Angus, whose rucksack is full of survival kit essentials you’d need trekking the jungle, not the Lakes. His ‘be prepared’ attitude proves useful, however, as the team is out of mobile battery and realise with dread that they are to be stuck on the island for the foreseeable. Lastly, the most unsympathetic character is Gordon, expertly played by comedic legend Adrian Edmondson, who portrays the exasperation and growing disdain he holds for his idiotic bunch of colleagues and the world at large. Any sense of ‘polite’ workplace manners quickly go out the window when it comes down to survival of the fittest and you’re fighting over who gets the largest portion of a soggy sausage.

The laughs come in steady waves, the plot holds your interest and unravels in line with the characters’ loss of control on their predicament and grip on reality. With perhaps the exception of Morrisey, whom you can’t help but feel sorry for being lumped with the ‘level-headed’ Neville who subsequently holds no interest, Jupp, Webb and Edmondson deliver solid, enjoyable comedic performances heaped with a fair dollop of pathos.

The action builds to a mildly sinister and not exceedingly predictable crescendo. The play has been criticised for its ‘lack of realism’ but how many of us actually know what savagery we would descend into if we were without food or home comforts for over 48 hours? It’s often quoted that you must only ‘starve a man of nine meals before anarchy breaks out’. Neville’s crew seem on the brink of desperation within 36 hours… but then again, anyone who’s been on a team building expedition will be all too aware how easily you could lose faith in humanity.

You’ll have to be quick to catch it, as Neville’s Island is enjoying an exclusive run at The Duke Of York’s in London until January 3rd. It’s certainly worth considering as a seriously funny piece keeping afloat amidst the stream of tacky Christmas shows littering the West End this festive season.


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