Do outdoor team-building weekends ever work? Do they produce tightly bonded managers who have felt on their racing pulses the power of communication, delegation and clear visionary goals? Or are they remarkably effective ways of bringing out one's inner fuming-misanthrope to whom seceding from the entire species now seems to a jolly appealing “objective”.
To judge from plays and films, such exercises veer towards the latter description – as is confirmed by Angus Jackson's entertaining revival (transferred to the West, with recasting, from a hit run at Chichester) of this dark comedy by Tim Firth.
The play began life in 1992 in Scarborough at Alan Ayckbourn’s Stephen Joseph Theatre. It’s a compliment to the piece to say that if Ayckbourn had ever tried to rewrite Lord of the Flies for a team of four Northern middle-management executives who get stranded on a fog-bound island in the Lake District while on a team-building course, then he would have come up with a work rather like this.
The play is often very funny but there is something a bit ersatz and glib about the expertise with which it produces gales of laughter while efficiently moving towards its final vision of tragi-farcical futility. It's a vision that, while it's justified by the plot, feels unearned (to my mind) by the spirit of the writing.
Plays to see this month
Plays to see this month
1/8 Electra, Old Vic - five stars
'Kristin Scott Thomas and director Ian Rickson are reunited now on this devastatingly brilliant production of Sophocles' great tragedy'
2/8 The Cherry Orchard, Young Vic - four stars
'It's a compressed, harsher, bleaker experience that purists may jib at but which tugs out the hard facts of the matter from the gracious haze of elegy'
3/8 Gypsy, Chichester Festival Theatre - five stars
'Actress Imelda Staunton's knock-out, psychologically searching performance as Momma Rose, the showbiz mother from hell, brilliantly puts the 'ow' in 'wow-factor' and positions the 'wow' up there in italics and neon lights'
4/8 Here Lies Love, National Theatre - four stars
'Fatboy Slim and David Byrne disco musical is brilliantly immersive'
5/8 Uncle Vanya, St James Theatre - three stars
'The third of Anya Reiss’ versions of Chekhov sees the young playwright once again bringing him bang up to date'
6/8 The Trial, Linbury Theatre - five stars
'Philip Glass has turned Kafka's novel into a remarkably faithful opera'
Royal Opera House
7/8 Seminar, Hampstead Theatre - four stars
'Theresa Rebeck's hyper-literate comedy focuses on the creative writing seminar from Purgatory'
8/8 Speed-the-Plow, Playhouse Theatre - three stars
'Lindsay Lohan silences the doubters with a deft performance in which she is winning and worrying at the same time'
The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television. It's a nice paradox, in the circumstances, that their own fine team-work brings a dyspeptic dynamism to the unravelling of the quartet.
The front row of the stalls is issues with plastic macs in case of splashes from Robert Innes Hopkins's excellent water-logged set of the island. Their boat sunk, the exhausted men fetch up here. Anxious to seem clever, their mild-natured captain (Neil Morrissey) has interpreted straightforward instructions as if they were intended as critic crossword clues. Result: they are 180 degrees off-course.
It's a situation that Adrian Edmondson's Gordon – an embittered loud-mouth who keeps up an unrelenting sarcastic commentary and is gradually revealed to be an Iago-like nihilist – is bound to love to despise. Completing the foursome, there's Miles Jupp's prissy, insecure Angus who has come prepared for anything (his haversack is a ludicrous “Tutankhamun's tomb” of survival gear from a self-igniting stove to alarming scimitar).
Anything, that it, but the suspicion that his supposedly stay-at-home wife, who does not answer an urgent call, has ventured farther afield than the Sainsbury's bread counter in his absence. And there's Robert Webb, funny and painful as Roy, a spacey-pious born-again “Christian in a cagoule”, beset by grief and mental illness, who starts to put a worrying construction on the presence of a very rare falcon.
There are good verbal and situational gags – the infuriating uselessness of a flare, say, on Keswick District Council's bonfire night.
But the darker side of the play feels forced (would the firm's HR department really have allowed Roy anywhere near the exercise?) and, in the lack of any real after-shock, oddly dutiful.
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