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Laughs and surprises on Neville’s Island


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Neville’s Island, by Tim Firth (best known as the writer of Calendar Girls), is an entertaining, witty British comedy about four middle-aged middle managers on a team bonding weekend who lose their way on a group navigation exercise and find themselves stranded overnight on an island in the Lakes District, not far from civilisation.

Neville, played by Paul Davies in this Adelaide Repertory production, is an out-of-condition lover of cryptic crosswords who manages to complicate the easiest of clues and is responsible for their predicament. Nigel Tripodi is Gordon, the sarcastic jokester who ridicules the weaknesses of the other three. Peter Smith is Roy, a devout Christian recovering from a breakdown since the death of his wife, and Thorin Cupit is the naïve, timid Angus who, Harpo Marx-like, has a rucksack which produces a surprising amount of goods.

Unsurprisingly, excess testosterone is put to the test in testing conditions and the men gradually reveal individual problems just as meek, mild businessmen with bottled-up emotions are encouraged to do on bush camps designed for men to release primeval, wild-man emotions.

Michael Eustice has assembled a good cast which has captured the range of male types as presented by Firth.  Some members are more successful than others at maintaining an English accent and some comic lines are swallowed and lost. Tripodi receives plenty of laughs, as Gordon, as the script has provided him with some gems of punchlines, but he is a little too nasty and similar throughout.

Alex Strickland’s set consists of a photo-realistic tall tree and large shrubs, while real logs suggest an island location. The set is generally lit in interesting ways and is particularly effective in the final scenes when Roy, in his underpants, sits aloft, contemplating his past, his religion and the darkness. With a typically British sense of the absurd and the ridiculous, the final images have the four men dishevelled, almost broken and transformed, having discovered something about themselves as the much-awaited search lights pan the stage.

Neville’s Island is a clever comedy and the Adelaide Rep has done justice to Firth’s sparkling dialogue. There are plenty of laughs and surprises as well as some topical social commentary in this production and, like the men on the island, they will find even more as the season progresses.

Adelaide Repertory Theatre is presenting Neville’s Island at the Arts Theatre until June 29.


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