The 60th anniversary of the founding of the Stephen Joseph Theatre continues to re-present a back catalogue of plays entirely in line with my own memories of its greatest successes.
Returning from its triumph of 1992 comes Tim Firth’s, Neville’s Island. Directed by the reliable Henry Bell, we meet again the hapless quartet of Roy, Gordon, Angus and Neville as they strive to cope with life on an island somewhere in the Lake District.
This is no epic story on the scale of Crusoe or the marooned boys in Lord of the Flies, but rather the pathetic tale of four business men on one of those team bonding exercises that goes wrong.
Clearly influenced by Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s technique of contrasting high farce with low pathos (should that be the other way round?), Tim Firth strips away the structures we use to support everyday life to reveal the skull beneath the skin.
Daniel Crowder plays Neville, the leader whose leadership skills are exposed as pathetic, but who then rises to achieve a semi-heroic stature.
His attempts to hold the quartet together become increasingly desperate as the lack of the usual support mechanisms destroys his authority.
The main wrecking ball, of increasing anarchy, is the cynical Gordon (Craig Cheetham).
Delightfully sardonic in his delivery, Gordon is the cynic we have all encountered somewhere, although with better lines.
His role appears to be entirely destructive, even if very funny. However, it is Gordon who forces other characters to confront the wreckage of their own lives.
Roy (Jamie Chapman) is the weakest link. Haunted by having to switch off his mother’s life-support machine, he has turned to Christianity as a prop to his disintegrating hold on reality.
Angus (John Last) is an enigma. He is no more vulnerable than any of the others to Gordon’s biting tongue, but he seems to suffer more. Perhaps it is because he has further
to fall, ending in mute despair as he faces the emptiness of his life.
Part of the subtle appeal of Neville’s Island is that the messages are serious, but the audience leave the theatre convinced they have seen a comedy. I am trying, but failing, to remember that line about human beings and their failure to accept too much reality.
It would be perfect just here.
Neville’s Island can be seen in The Round at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on various dates until Thursday August 27.
It is in repertory with a revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions.
The box office is on 01723 370541.
Review by Mike Tilling