Neville's Island leaves critics all at sea
The West End transfer of the Chichester Festival Theatre production opened at the Duke of York's Theatre last night
…The 1992 play has proved a popular banker for Firth over the years, even if its lines are less funny than I remember and its mysticism more spurious than I'd like. Last year's sumptuous looking Chichester production by Angus Jackson… Now you see comedy acting, now you see comic acting, [Robert] Webb definitely occupying the second category in his beautifully judged undercutting and his angelic transfiguration. He and Jackson give the final half hour of the play everything they've got and more than it deserves. Still, it's great theatre, with that likeable stand-up Miles Jupp chipping in tactfully… It's Firth's lasting achievement that he's nailed so many macho myths in one delirious, slightly implausible scenario. And his show deserves to succeed all over again as an old-fashioned popular West End comedy.
…Angus Jackson's entertaining revival… of this dark comedy by Tim Firth… 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. 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. There are good verbal and situational gags… But the darker side of the play feels forced… and, in the lack of any real after-shock, oddly dutiful.
…The cast contains big names… The performances are solid and there's an impressively lush set by Robert Innes Hopkins — complete with pools of dirty water for the cast to splash around in. Yet Angus Jackson's revival can't obscure the fact that the play is inherently static. What's more, three out of the four characters are unsympathetic and the other one is unmemorable. While there are some decent gags, credibility is strained as the material grows darker… Ultimately, though, the problem is that the play feels flabby. The idea would sustain an episode of a sitcom, but stretched beyond two hours it seems much too thin.
… it looks and feels very much like Carry On Up the Jungle. Soon, alas, the production comes a-cropper as surely as the four gents from Salford have: it ends up in the wilderness between the compass points of comedy, horror, satire and psychological thriller… This is, of course, an ensemble piece but there is, alas, no sense of ensemble playing: each actor seems to be doing his own thing, and tries to make off with as many laughs as possible, and the result is a bit of a muddle… After a while, no one in the theatre could have been yearning to get off Neville's Island more than me. It feels like a rather feeble comedy sketch that had been stretched out of all recognition into a two-and-a-half-hour play…
…Initially, it all looks promising… But great comedy depends on revelation rather than repetition: since, however, we know most of these men's attributes from the start, there is not much room for development… Even if the play tests one's credulity, Angus Jackson's production, Robert Innes Hopkins's design and Paul Groothuis's sound score lend it a physical verisimilitude. Adrian Edmondson, the sole survivor from the 2013 Chichester cast, is also first-rate as Gordon… Robert Webb is quietly touching… Miles Jupp writhes plausibly as the wife-loving Angus plagued by fears of cuckoldry, and Neil Morrissey does all he can with the faintly nebulous Neville. Firth makes some sharp points about male insufficiency but I get the sense of a good 90-minute idea being stretched to fill the requisite two-act running time.