Sheila’s Island

March 2, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆   Captivating

King’s Theatre: Tue 1 – Sat 5 March 2022
Review by Martin Gray

A Nineties hit is back with a twist as the King’s Theatre is transformed into Sheila’s Island, the Tim Firth comedy on tour in an Yvonne Arnoud Theatre production.

An outward bound team-building exercise isn’t an enticing prospect at the best of times. Imagine the horror when your group gets cut off, cast away from the rest of humanity…

… on a tiny island in Derwentwater in the Lake District.

Judy Flynn and Sara Crowe. Pic: Craig Fuller

OK, it’s hardly Robinson Crusoe territory, or even Tom Hanks, but for Sheila, Julie, Denise and Fay, middle managers with Salford-based Pennine Mineral Water Company, it’s no joke.

Happily for the audience, there are jokes aplenty as Tim Firth’s Neville’s Island is revived and gender-flipped. Has Firth had an epiphany, is he bidding to provide insights into what it is to be a woman?

Nope, the revamp was suggested to him by Joanna Read, of Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, because the original is a cracking piece and why shouldn’t actresses have a chance to see what they can do with it? Under Read’s assured direction, the emotional truths of Firth’s original remain, even if that great punning title is no more.

looking inwards

The play opens with our heroines washed up on the island after losing their tiny boat, soaked to the skin but almost amused. Over two hours they go from looking for scavenger hunt clues – team captain Sheila (the superb Judy Flynn) is convinced they’re still on the right track to beat their rivals – to looking inwards, at what they’ve made of their lives. And as the weekend drags on, there’s a real fear it’s all going to go a bit Lord – sorry, Lady – of the Flies.

Abigail Thaw, Sara Crowe, Judy Flynn and Rina Fatania. Pic: Craig Fuller

It sounds heavy, but Firth’s deft script balances light and shade as he gradually reveals more about Sheila and colleagues Denise, Fay and Julie. The gags arise from situation as well as character and are smartly delivered by the fine ensemble.

As well as Flynn there’s Abigail Thaw as Denise, the joker in the pack; Sara Crowe’s Fay, back from a mysterious 11-month ‘holiday’; and ultra-organised Julie, Tracy Collier, whose backpack contains enough essential and surprising items to make even Mary Poppins envious.

from slapstick to poignant

Thaw has the showiest role, as the self-appointed teller of home truths, but all four women get plenty to do, their ability to snap from slapstick to poignant in the blink of an eye serving the material well.

Tuesday night’s curtain call saw Flynn, Thaw and Crowe turn and applaud Collier, who stepped in to fill Julie’s sodden boots when Rina Fatania proved unavailable. She was wonderful, perfectly evoking the pathos of a person who thinks they have it together.

Sara Crowe, Rina Fatania, Abigail Thaw and Judy Flynn. Pic: Craig Fuller.

TV veterans Flynn (House of Elliot, Brittas Empire), Thaw (Endeavour, Black Mirror) and Crowe (Midsomer Murders, Harry Enfield and Philadelphia… No, not the movie, the marvellous cream cheese ads) enjoyed themselves hugely. Nevertheless, given the programme indicates Collier is understudying all four roles, Flynn, Crowe and Thaw are probably eyeing up the odd day off even now.

A few words of praise, too, to Liz Cooke, whose single set proves eminently adaptable, with a little help from Paul Anderson’s excellent lighting design. And Jon Nicholls’ music puts the perfect capper on scenes while setting the tone for what comes next.

It’s safe to say we all need a distraction from real life right now and Sheila’s Island is a terrific place to escape to for a few hours.

Running time: Two hours (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000.
Tuesday 1 – Sat 5 March 2022
Evenings: 7.30pm; Mats Wed, Sat: 2.30pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

ENDS

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