Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Alan Humphries (Neville) Peter Baio (Angus) Paul Bellamy (Roy) and Carl Paskin (Gordon)

Neville’s Island

Swan Theatre Amateur Company


So, the middle management of a small water company based in Salford are sent off on a team building exercise in the Lake District, a scenario which probably is enough to have most office workers already cringing and breaking out in hot sweats.

The building idea hits the rocks, quite literally, when elected leader Neville uses his wonderful cryptic crossword skills to decipher the team’s first clue from the organisers. Sadly, the clue wasn’t cryptic, not even a little bit, so his brilliant deciphering was, should we say, brilliantly mistaken.

Or, to put it another way it was, one across: Ron in a wig. Not right – five letters.

So, while the other teams on the exercise strolled off to the next village, Neville’s charges set off in a rowing boat to an island in the middle of a lake which they not so much landed on as rammed, with their boat sinking in protest with them in it.

Which left them wet and marooned on an island, 200 yards from shore, with a fear that anyone striking out to swim for help was likely to be devoured by man-eating four-foot pikes, with their only hope of rescue a phone with just enough power for a single call.

Which is the start of this team demolition exercise with lovely performances of disparate characters from the four-man cast.

Their leader, Neville, is played by Alan Humphries. He is middle class, probably in the middle of middle class, has twin girls and is the sort of man you suspect had elderly parents and could recite the capital of every country in the world before he was 10.

He accepts his mistake as part of life’s rich pattern and sees that as the end of the matter, with everyone still happily following his lead. Then there is Roy, played by Paul Bellamy. Roy is a born-again Christian, awfully wishy washy, and an avid bird watcher. I would say twitcher, but he does enough of that when people mention Lucy. Whisper her name and he not only starts to twitch but runs up a tree to pray, or at least chat to God.

Lucy is . . . was . . . we don’t really know. He just talks about her affectionately, always past tense. A wife, girlfriend, lover . . . bit unlikely in Roy’s case I know, but dark horses and all that.

Angus is played by Peter Baio, like Bellamy, a former resident of the French home for veterans in the wonderful Heroes.

Despite the name, Angus is from London, is besotted with his wife, and carries a rucksack which it seems also serves as a warehouse for his local camping and survival goods store, containing every conceivable item necessary for an expedition through tropical rain forest, tundra, desert and high alpine passes. Oh, and a sausage he nicked at breakfast. It has its own inventory and everything is packed in freezer bags to keep dry.


Neville and Angus

His mind is wracked by fear that his wife is cuckolding him while he is away for the bonding weekend; the idea she might be doing a bit of her own bonding implanted by Carl Paskin’s Gordon.

Gordon is a Brummie who has spent 18 years from humble beginnings as a pallet stacker, battling his way up the greasy pole to reach middle management. It has not been easy, and you suspect there is a simmering resentment of the other three with their degrees and easy entry to the world of company cars and expense accounts he has worked so hard to reach.

He is brutally sardonic, adding his acerbic two pennyworth to anything that happens. He seems to have no relationships, no wife or girlfriends, no friends even, or none he speaks of, and he has an unerring ability to find the weak points in his team mates, which is not to say he is a team player by any means, just that he finds himself in their team.

With Roy it is his religion, with Angus his love for his wife, and with Neville . . . apart from crashing the boat, and being elected leader, it is . . . pretty much everything. His leadership, management skill, his comfortable, satisfied, happy, middle-class life. Gordon doesn’t just have a chip on his shoulder, he carries a whole bag of spuds.

The 1992 play was Tim Firth’s first full length effort, commissioned by Alan Ayckbourn no less, and sets the scene well, even if it is a little far-fetched. There are elements of Ayckbourn in it. We have an everyday situation seen through a distorted lens and characters who first appear almost normal, if a little eccentric, like people you might even know, but as time goes on you find you don’t know them at all, they have become bizarre caricatures.

At first it is very funny, Angus is a bit like an excited Jack Russell, ever eager to please, bubbling with enthusiasm for what is probably the first bit of real adventure in his life, and it's Boy’s Own stuff at that!

Roy is at best ineffectual, at worst useless. On lookout duty he is ecstatic at having seen a gyrfalcon, almost thanking the rather avuncular Neville, and God, for shipwrecking them otherwise he would never have seen it – not that he ever notices anything useful.

And Gordon? Gordon is the grumpy one, moan a minute with  snide and at times very funny comments.


Gordon and Roy

As time goes on though it gets darker both literally, as night falls, and figuratively as emotions start to rise through a mix of hunger and frustration. Neville remains calm, in control, Roy, barely holding on to sanity, relies on religion, Angus becomes more Jack Russell like around moments of sitting in solitary silence while Gordon’s off beat sarcasm starts to become more cruel with unpleasant jibes and personal attacks.

The interval brings in a hint of horror, which is perhaps a step too far for credulity, while the second act perhaps loses the plot a little as we stray into Lord of The Flies territory. You get the feeling the play would have made a good pilot for a comedy series but has tried to break out and go a stage further as Angus finally snaps, Gordon hears some home truths and Roy . . . well at least we find out who Lucy was.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not to say it is not worth seeing, it is for the acting alone. It is very funny with laugh out loud moments, and in its moments of high drama in the second act, you feel for some of the characters verbally assaulted by Gordon.

The attacks are made with surgical precision, quite brutal at times, as Gordon changes from being the rather droll, funny one to a bullying, nasty and dislikeable individual, who then tries to lay blame on everyone else when it appears his actions could have dire consequences.

You can almost hear a cheer when Neville, mild mannered, don’t rock the boat, soft spoken Neville, matter of factly tells Gordon how he sees him for what he is, and what he will be putting in his report as team leader. It is all the more devastating for its lack of emotion and expression, almost like a rather bored annual assessment.

You suspect that if Firth were to write the tale now it would be more subtle, the fun more gentle, the drama more comedic, as it is our characters have to develop, change, find out about themselves and each other stranded on Neville’s island for a couple of hungry days, growing from sitcom opening to the hint of Lord of the Flies end. Something they manage well.

Directed by Jason Moseley, who also gave us the simple island set along with set and lighting designer Andy Hares, Neville’s Island is an interesting play and well worth seeing despite a few shortcomings in the plot.

The acting is superb, each character clearly defined and believable as the team bonds stretch and break. It is also very funny, even when it all starts to break down at the end. Somehow, you suspect life in the Salford water company will never be the same again. To 26-10-19

Roger Clarke


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