Lord of the Flies meets The Office in Tim Firth's amusing if flawed 1992 play — here given a new lease of life by director Angus Jackson and a stellar comedy cast.
With a simple and effortlessly comedic setup, four middle mangers become stranded on a small island in the Lake District during a team building weekend. Laughter does indeed ensue, though the play never quite grabs the hilarity that always seems just out of reach.
Nevertheless, the cast alone should ensure a hit. Adrian Edmondson is the bitterly sardonic Gordon, whose mockery edges closer and closer to bullying as the play progresses. Robert Webb is the meek and damaged Roy, whose clichéd Christian acts as whipping boy for the play's laziest jokes. Miles Jupp plays Angus, an affable nerd whose cheerful demeanour masks a brewing midlife crisis. And Neil Morrissey takes the titular role of Neville — a team captain whose disappointingly meagre role is simply to keep the peace.
The cast is universally strong (Morrissey makes the best of what he's given) and their characters universally irritating — the kind of people you'd meet at a BBQ in the Home Counties then spend the rest of the afternoon trying to avoid. But therein lies the comedy: four mismatched office drones, each harbouring a spreadsheet of issues, and thrown together to butt heads in a scenario that's moderately more testing than they anticipated.
Indeed, part of the humour comes from watching the characters go to pieces at the hands of such a danger-lite 'crisis'. It's hardly life-and-death, and one's reminded of the scene in Peep Show (the TV programme that made Webb's name) where Mark and Jeremy get lost on a hill at night. "We're not calling mountain rescue. This isn't the Matterhorn, Jeremy, it's the Quantocks. Nobody dies in the Quantocks."
Unfortunately, this lack of tangible drama also makes the play feel overlong. There are a few character meltdowns to hold our interest along the way, but these are too predictable and unconvincing to warrant dragging the piece past two hours.
That's not to say Neville's Island isn't thoroughly enjoyable or that it won't find a keen audience. Funny and inoffensive, it's a middle class, middle aged comedy that owes a natural debt to Alan Aykbourne, and will likely find favour with fans of this ilk.
Review by Dan Frost