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Neville's Island (Duke of York's)

'It's Tim Firth's lasting achievement that he's nailed so many macho myths in one delirious, slightly implausible scenario'

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Team bonding? Adrian Edmondson, Miles Jupp, Neil Morrissey and Robert Webb in Neville's Island
© Johan Persson

"What use is a flare on bonfire night?" neatly summarises the problems faced by Tim Firth's four stranded middle-management executives on a team-building exercise in the Lake District. They are stuck up a creek with too many paddles and not enough gumption.

The 1992 play - a sort of Lord of the Flies for what are referred to as mini-lords of the files - 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 - Robert Innes Hopkins's setting of tall trees and ferns, the chiaroscuro lighting and fireworks of Howard Harrison, and the sounds by Paul Groothuis of a cacophonous menagerie and a passing ferry of merrymakers bopping to Manfred Mann are alone worth the price of admission - is led into town by Ade Edmondson as gormless Gordon.

The first West End version starred Tony Slattery, who had the requisite plumpness for Gordon's steamroller slobbishness and motor-mouth defensiveness. Edmondson works hard at something else: a nit-picking, non-stop head-jerking self-assertiveness, leaving Neil Morrissey's croaky team leader Neville stripped of authority and Robert Webb's seraphic God-botherer Roy quietly centre stage.

Now you see comedy acting, now you see comic acting, 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 as the anxiously uxorious Angus.

Angus thinks his wife, who doesn't answer his mobile calls for help, might be having sex and shopping in Sainsbury's. It's the play's main joke that an outward bound challenge should be undertaken by a bunch of omega males, a not dissimilar concept to that of bumbling celebrities squealing at cockroaches down under on television.

Neville's team have come adrift from two other groups and been wrecked after hitting a rock. There's nothing funnier all night than the sight of them changing their underwear under towels - like we British beta males do on the beach every summer - or slapping their bare torsos to keep warm.

Otherwise, gags include a sorry saga of a solo sausage, a floating piece of pizza, tales of voracious, pigeon-munching falcons and man-eating pike; these set-backs are met with the wielding of a spatula, or the improvised alarm of an orange Tupperware side-plate. 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.

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