Neville's Island

Date 26th October 2021
Society Todmorden Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society TAODS
Venue Todmorden Hippodrome Theatre
Type of Production Play
Director Matt Parker
Musical Director N/A
Choreographer N/A
Producer Justine Sutcliffe

Report

Author: Paul R. Mason

 

Four men are marooned on a small island with only a solitary sausage between them for sustenance and an uncharged mobile phone as their sole means of communication with the world beyond. Desperate to be rescued they try to make the best of their unpleasant situation until (of course) they are eventually found. This in a nutshell is the essence of the plot of Tim Firth’s “Neville’s Island”. Frequently staged by professionals and amateurs alike since it appeared nearly 30 years ago the play exerts a strange hold over audiences. In truth it is a work of two halves. Act one introduces us to the four stranded middle managers, amusingly explaining how they came to find themselves washed up on a small island on Derwentwater. Much humour is derived from ‘captain’ Neville’s over-intuitive reading of the clues the quartet were given to solve their company’s team building exercise. We laugh at their predicament while slowly learning about their different backgrounds. The second act is much darker. The humour now, mainly derived from cynical digs, is particularly aimed at Roy (the most vulnerable.)  Here the writing becomes less jolly. Much of it missing the mark entirely, for example Gordon’s cynical attack on church goers resulted in an embarrassed silence from the audience. What is billed as an hilarious comedy has now become closer to a Sophoclean tragedy. This presents a challenge for the four actors to cope with. In truth Neville, Angus, Gordon and Roy are only sketchily drawn: professional specialisms vaguely hinting at their inner motivations. That they are employed by a water company while they are dangerously surrounded by the stuff is a subtle dig.

To be successful in capturing the attention of the audience the set must be every inch the image of a small uninhabited islet, overgrown, green and damp. And it was in every detail. James Claxton working the stage, as well as being responsible for the set building team and stage design, along with Gilly Walker and David Winslow, is the kind of person every amateur theatre company needs and is indebted to.

The casting was excellent. Each actor looking the part of his personality. Roger King as Neville showed us a man driven by the certainty of his own conviction and cleverness gradually fading in confidence as the uncomfortable truth about his errors emerged. What could have been a pleasant drink in the “Plough” pub had become a nightmare. Steven Hooper as Angus, was a man weighed down by unexpected troubles as his wife, who had only popped down to the local shops, had not immediately set a rescue mission in motion. Could she, he ponders, be utilising his time away to pursue a clandestine affair? Steven was convincing in his gradual but significant emotional withdrawal from the group. Roy, an evangelical Christian was the one character we felt like warming to. Sam Cresswell played him as an innocent abroad, buoyed up by his faith yet hosting inner demons. It was an engaging, clever interpretation. The fourth member of the group Gordon is a closet monster. Sure of himself and ready to criticize and belittle he progresses from being a figure of fun to someone you hope you will not be cast away on a desert island with any time soon!. Oh, wait a minute, that is the point! His physical presence alone is something that Martin Cook used to great effect. All in all the portrayal of these four dysfunctional  men thrown together by accident was well observed.

Director Matt Parker had obviously spent time managing the grouping of his team. This was excellent and showed a shrewd eye for detail. He had orchestrated the dynamic of the script well allowing the laughs to come and accentuating the tragedy. 

This is not a play designed to create a warm glow on our exit, rather we are asked to admire its ingenuity and its exploration of how strangers may behave in a difficult situation, musing on how we would have coped if so stranded. 

Thank you, Justine for your typically warm welcome to Gillian and myself.

PRM.