THEATRE / Island race: Paul Taylor on Tim Firth's character-building comedy, Neville's Island in Nottingham
Monday 31 January 1994
Like The End of the Food Chain, which homed in on the night shift at a food distribution warehouse, Neville's Island focuses on the tensions and power-struggles within a group of Northern males: here, four out-of-condition managers who get stranded while on a team-building outward-bound course in the Lake District. 'Lord of the Files', as one of them quips; and certainly, after a night on the island, that 'mutual assessment round robin' could well turn into a spectator blood-sport.
Just as in the Food Chain, the comedy is driven forward by an impatient, sarcastic figure who runs verbal rings round the others and whose brand of baroque Northern mockery supplies most of the best lines. Except that here, instead of being merely ambivalent about his comic conduit, Firth gradually exposes him as a contemptible nihilist, only happy when dragging everyone down to his own level of spiritual nullity. It's a brave thing to do, since it casts a retrospective sourness over much of the play's humour; it's also brave of Slattery, who draws deeply on the rebarbative, bumptious, smartass side of his persona in his portrayal of Gordon.
That, thanks to Gordon, one of the men (Paul Raffield) ends up comatose with misery about his failures as a repressed, middle-class husband is par for the course. Less expected is that another, Roy, the 'Christian in the cagoule' (beautifully played by James Fleet), finds himself halfway up a tree in only his underpants, brandishing an 18 in knife and repeatedly singing the first line of Oklahoma. But then, he has something on his mind and the play, slyly giving you a false lead as to just what that is, is then free to offer, through him, a sudden jolting glimpse of the blank oblivion that encircles life like the blackness round the island.
Much of the play is uncomplicatedly uproarious, but the ending, with its mock- sacrament and implication that only crack-witted belief can counter Gordon's small-minded nihilism, suggests that Firth may be emulating Ayckbourn's bleakness as well as his productivity.
To 19 Feb. Booking: 0602 419419
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Andreas Lubitz: Who is Germanwings co-pilot who 'locked out captain and crashed flight 9525'?
- 2 JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
- 3 Germanwings crash: Descent may have been 'deliberate, suicidal choice' by pilot, claims experts
- 4 Germanwings plane crash live: Andreas Guenter Lubitz intentionally crashed flight 9525 into the Alps in act of mass murder and suicide – latest
- 5 Video shows what happens when lava is poured onto ice
Jeremy Clarkson to host BBC's Have I Got News For You despite Top Gear exit
Jeremy Clarkson says it 'isn't hard' to create another Top Gear
James May hints Top Gear days are over following Jeremy Clarkson's BBC suspension
The Face of an Angel actress: I feel great empathy for Meredith Kercher’s family
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Vote Ukip, says far-right group Britain First