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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Neville's Island
Duke of York's Theatre  Autumn-Winter 2014

This particularly weak little comedy offers about as many laughs as you might get from an evening of poor TV sitcoms that is, perhaps a mild chuckle every half hour or so, just to reassure yourself you're getting your money's worth. The only attraction is watching some skilled comic actors working very hard to bring it to life.

Tim Firth's 1992 script presents four middle-management types on a corporate team-building exercise who manage to get lost on an island in the Lake District. Given that premise you might not be able to predict every joke, but you'd get the broad outline. 

They panic, they prove inept at the most basic survival techniques, they display their individual eccentricities, they turn against each other, they panic some more and eventually spoiler alert they're rescued. 

And so it is. Adrian Edmondson plays the cynical wisecracking one, the older man who worked his way up from the shop floor and resents the fast-tracked younger guys. Robert Webb is the simple-minded one who had a mental breakdown some time back and got through it by finding religion and birdwatching. 

Miles Jupp is the cautious company man who typically has loaded his backpack with every possible survival supply except anything that might actually help them. And Neil Morrissey is the leader without a clue. 

They take turns doing slow burns (Edmonson is particularly good at fuming indignation), slow realisation of their plight (Morrissey's speciality), and blank incomprehension (points to Webb and Jupp). They take turns being pitiable as the play reaches for small hints of sympathy and character depth. 

Director Angus Jackson invents some sight gags and comic business, but it's not enough to generate much laughter or create a comic reality, and Robert Innes Hopkins' mist-filled set looks more like a tropical rainforest than a bit of English woodland just off a main road. 

There's no point in beating this play to death. It's as harmless as, well, an evening of poor TV sitcoms, except that you've paid to see it. The four actors are skilled comic performers and know how to time and deliver a joke. If only they had been given some.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Neville's Island - Duke of York's Theatre 2014 

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