Review: Neville's Island brings Queen's Theatre Hornchurch back to life
- Credit: Mark Sepple
There’s nothing quite like the moment the house lights dim and the chatter fades to silence in anticipation.
After a theatre-less, cinema-less and joyless year-and-a-half of lockdown, it's no wonder the audience was buzzing with excitement as the performance of Neville's Island kicked off at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch.
Following four middle managers on an away day that goes horribly wrong, Tim Firth’s production epitomises everyone’s worst fear of being stuck on a desert Island (albeit in the middle of the Lake District) with colleagues who drive them up the wall.
In line with government guidelines, the theatre has gone above and beyond to ensure audience safety, gaining the Society Of London Theatre's and UK Theatre’s See It Safely and Visit England's We’re Good to Go accreditation.
On arrival, we had our temperatures taken, hands sanitised, and were led through the one-way system to our seats.
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The new drink delivery service, conveniently accessed by scanning the menu’s barcode on a phone, saw our beverages arriving at our seats, and we happily slurped on gin and tonics waiting for the show to start.
From the word go, Neville’s Island had the audience in stitches, as three soaking men stumbled onto the stage, wringing out sopping socks and hats onto the unlucky souls sat in the front rows.
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We meet the four colleagues (played by Beruce Khan, Philip Cairns, Sean Michael Verey and Stephen Leask) moments after their kayak capsized into the river at the start of a doomed teambuilding weekend.
Nominated team leader Neville (Verey) proceeds to strip off his wet clothes, and within minutes of the show starting, the four men are standing completely starkers on stage, their dignity spared only by flimsy towels.
Cairn’s hilarious performance as bad-tempered Gordon, who has lost his backpack, left the audience cackling, barely pausing for breath as he berates his fellow teammates with snarky, sarcastic jibes in a thick Scottish accent.
While the others go on a recce, Gordon convinces Angus (Khan) to call his wife on the team’s only mobile phone, which inexplicably only has enough power to make a single phone call - the first sign that the play was written in the 1990s, as nowadays one would obviously charge their mobile overnight and bring a portable battery.
Angus’ wife fails to answer, laying the groundwork for the character’s fear that she may be having an affair, and their relationship might not be as secure as he tries to make out.
In true team-leader style, Neville tries to keep everyone’s spirits up by suggesting a game of cricket, prompting the group to dissolve into a squabbling mob.
In fact, the managers bicker about almost everything, from who should be on look-out to who gets the most dinner (a single sausage stolen from breakfast at the hotel).
Among the comical performance, director Emma Baggott artfully weaves in poignant moments of quiet reflection, for example fixing a single spotlight on devout Christian Roy (Leask) as he sings desperate hymns of praise to God.
These quiet interludes juxtapose the show’s fast-paced mayhem, threading themes of grief, relationships, love and masculinity into the farcical awayday.
After the interval, which is as well organised and slick as our arrival, the curtains open on the men dancing around in a circle with sticks, chanting Kumbaya My Lord at the top of their lungs (to show potential predators on the island they come in peace, of course).
The comedy takes a rather dark turn in the second half, as the men realise Roy may be suicidal and has disappeared with a giant knife - again, a giveaway sign that Firth’s original came out in 1992, as 30 years on the conversation around mental health has thankfully progressed.
With stand-out performances from all four actors, a beautiful minimalist set designed by James Button, superb sound designed by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite and cinematic lighting from Stephen Pemble, Neville’s Island offered welcome comic relief after an incredibly difficult year for the arts.
Get your tickets now for a guaranteed evening of (Covid-secure) quality entertainment at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch.