Bournemouth Little Theatre Bournemouth Little Theatre, Bournemouth KD Johnson
6 June 2023
At first glance at the publicity for this comedy by Tim Firth I didn’t think I knew any of his work – but then I realised that his was the brain behind both Calendar Girls and Kinky Boots (with Geoff Deane). This play is an earlier work dating from 1992, of which (I read) “it has been in almost continuous production since its première”. The script was updated in 2014 with some modern references – mobile ‘phones, for example, scarcely existed in 1992 and Strictly Come Dancing certainly didn’t.
Cards on the table here. I have never been on a corporate team building weekend – which this play concerns. I have, however, got very wet while hillwalking in the Lake District – including getting all my spare clothes wet, which is why I now always pack them in airtight grip seal bags, much to the amusement of my family. As recently as 2018, I overturned a kayak on Derwentwater and (terminally) drowned my supposedly waterproof ‘phone. So I do have some empathy with these characters.
We are introduced to four middle managers, from a Salford mineral water company, as they arrive lost and marooned, having sunk their boat, on Rampsholme Island in Derwentwater (approx. grid: NY264214). There are immediate recriminations as it transpires that their elected team leader, Neville (David Maxwell), has gone downstream rather than upstream in his cryptic-crossword understanding of simple navigational instructions – which have probably led the other teams to a nice pub and a cosy campsite. Chief amongst the critics is Gordon (Lindsay Jones), while Angus (John Billington) is the one based on me – with clothes packed in waterproof bags and everything bar the kitchen sink in his rucksack. The final member of this four-hander is Roy (Chris Huggill), a keen birder (that’s me again) with a troubling health issue in his recent past that has led him towards God (definitely not me).
Think Last of the Summer Wine crossed with Lord of the Flies – and that is pretty much it for the first half – there are lots of laughs and it all seems to be going well. Suddenly, at the end of Act I, it all takes a dramatic turn; I am reminded of the first Predator movie – though none of these guys are action heroes!
Act II continues in this tense, threatening vein – I overhear someone behind me “It gets you gripped, doesn’t it?” The fog effect works really well – hanging over the island with the “lookout” tree rising above it. Water and performance stages rarely mix well but Derwentwater laps throughout in a pool on the left and quite a lot of that water ends up on the stage in one way or another. Sound and lighting effects for a boat, aircraft and fireworks also work well – though I am a bit surprised not to hear any bird sounds, especially given Roy’s interest.
It is in this second half that the characters and toxic relationships of our 4 hungry and sleep-deprived castaways really emerge. I suspect that we all know people like these and there is pathos and some shocking revelations. Each of these 4 seasoned performers are very good in their rôles but Lindsay Jones works particularly well as Gordon – maintaining the humour amidst his cruel mockery and negativity.
I will let you experience the rest of it yourselves, but this is a remarkably well acted and staged production … I am really struggling to praise it as much as it deserves – we enjoyed it and tonight’s audience loved it. Congratulations to the director, Barbara Evans, and to this excellent cast.
Neville’s Island runs every night at 19:45 until Saturday (10th June)