Edmondson says that Neville’s Island is “Lord of the Flies meets The Office.” While this incarnation of Tim Firth’s comedy doesn’t quite match the pathos of the former or the laughs of the latter this “Lord of the Files”, as one character jokingly calls the set-up, is a highly entertaining evening.
If you were planning a team-building getaway with the lads in the office then Neville’s Island is just the thing to make you see sense and just take a week off instead. Four middle managers from Salford find themselves stranded on a soggy island in Derwentwater after a treasure hunt goes wrong and they sink a boat after misreading their laminated instructions. The office sterotypes – alpha male and eternal bachelor Gordon (Adrian Edmondson), middle class worrier Angus (Miles Jupp), bird-watching Christian in a cagoule Roy (Robert Webb) and their nice-guy captain Neville (Neil Morrissey) – find themselves lost and, without enough phone battery to call for help, they are forced to go into survival mode, Bear Grylls style, with nothing but a change of clothes, a bag of overpriced camping gear and a sad, solitary sausage that they pinched from the breakfast buffet.
It’s impeccably cast and all four actors play to type, giving the kind of sound comic performances you would expect from a cursory glance at their big names emblazoned on the outside of the theatre. There’s a familiar BBC sketch show feel to it which is welcomed at first but feels a bit stretched after the interval and almost resented at the two-hour mark.
The script is incredibly funny even if the situation is unrealistic but Neville’s Island soon gets stuck in a rut of its own making. Thanks to designer Robert Innes Hopkins it’s quite a nice rut, filled with real trees, rocks and dripping water, but it is a rut nonetheless. The performance feels too static, and as stranded as the four hapless men are, in its overlong middle section. All is forgiven, though, by the genius conclusion which ties up all the comedy and surprisingly dark and deep character development in a nice and easy to swallow package.
In a moment of midlife crisis, Angus wonders if all his life he has been hovering around a safe five instead of running around at a joyous nine or ten. This is the curse of middle management and unfortunately for this fun but safe comedy, too.