The main adjective to describe Neville’s Island now playing at The Duke of Yorks Theatre, having transferred from Chichester but with a different cast, is damp. Not a damp squib exactly, at least not for the majority of the playing time, but a dampness pervading the stage. This is because the four employees of a Salford water company (I rest my case) who are on a team building exercise and get lost in the rain, end up on a small island in the Lake District, which the designer, Robert Innes Hopkins, has brilliantly created. The trees on stage drip, as do the actors, who arrive on stage via a downstage river (well stream) but with enough water in it to send splashes over the audience in the front row. Hence the reason why they’ve been supplied with plastic macs.
Whilst the play is often very funny, it also seems rather forced and not sure whether to be comedy, drama, psychological thriller or satire. The four comic actors, Adrian Edmondson (Gordon), Miles Jupp (Angus), Neil Morrissey (Neville) and Robert Webb (Roy) are all excellent, although their characters not so. Gordon is a relentless nasty cynic who you long to show one redeeming feature but doesn’t. Angus is the insecure ‘anorak’ who keeps everything but the kitchen sink in his rucksack. Neville is the ‘keep everyone happy at all times’ team leader who is keen to appear cleverer than he actually is, whilst Roy is recovering from some kind of nervous breakdown and grieving over the death of his wife. He is a religious ‘anorak’ who spends much of the play perched up a tree, talking to the birds (in particular a rare breed of falcon).
It’s a great pity that these four work colleagues are the ones to get marooned together, as there is a general feel that they disliked one another even before they set out. It is an ensemble piece with each character doing their own thing. None of them are in tune with each other, thanks in no small measure to Gordon. He constantly gripes at Neville for thinking each instruction they were given was some kind of cryptic crossword clue, which is the reason they are 180 degrees off course. He continuously ridicules the poor, hapless Roy, having no sympathy whatsoever for a man teetering on the edge. And as for his dealings with Angus, he drips feeds several seeds of doubt into Angus’s mind that his beloved wife is playing away whilst he’s away.
Nothing is really resolved during the course of the play and none of the four men appear to learn anything from their experiences. The only thing it might do is persuade anyone coming to see it that a team building, outward bound exercise is a pointless one.