Shiela’s Island by Tim Firth. Richmond Theatre, 1 Little Green, Richmond TW9 to 30 April 2022 and on tour. 3***. William Russell.

Tim Firth is the man who, among other things, gave the world Calendar Girls. This latest play which is on a national tour is an interesting rewriting of an earlier play of his called Neville’s Island. It has been strongly cast and crisply directed and really probably deserves that fourth star but I saw it opening night albeit mid tour in the gorgeous Richmond Theatre and the cast, which is not reflection on them, had not quite got to grips with the theatre’s acoustic. It was clear from the response, and I was in a splendid stalls seat, that some lines were hitting other sections of the theatre rather better than mine.
The four are on one of those daft exercises corporations love and have been sent to follow various directions aimed at specific goal in the Lake District. Unfortunately Shiela (Judy Flynn), the team leader, is too clever by half and has decided the instructions are like a crossword clue and has brought them to a deserted island – their boat has sunk on the way and they are stranded – instead of to a pub a few miles down the road from where they started. They are a mixed bunch. Fay (Sarah Crowe) has been off work for some time with a breakdown and has found God, Denise (Abigail Thaw) wants to be team leader and does not suffer fools gladly, especially fools like Sheila, and Julie (Rina Fatania) has a chip on her shoulder about not having risen as far as she thinks she deserves. She has also come with the biggest rucksack which is stuffed with everything one would need on a desert island but she is too stupid and resentful at being the lowest in the pecking order to make this clear. She is also the one with the mobile phone, naturally the latest model, who uses it, before it goes flat, to phone her husband, who, she says, is always at home. Except, of course, he is not. The evening really consists of a series of sketches as the disasters pile up, there is no food, their clothing is all wrong, the survival sheet is a camouflage affair and the boat that passes by, whose attention they try to attract, is on a booze cruise and does not see them. There are some choice moments. Fay, soaking wet, taking off her knickers without creating any blushes in the audience is one, as is the time when Julia starts to unpack that rucksack from which the only thing missing seems to be the kitchen sink.
Director Joanna Read has kept it all moving briskly, there is a clever set, and the cast work smoothly together – they make a well oiled machine. It is what one calls a good night out, and one with quite a lot worth saying about how people react when things go wrong in ways that one would not have expected them to do even if it is all pretty safe stuff aimed at a middle aged middle class audience. Some end up sadder, some wiser and some will not be talking to some of the others for quite a while, if ever again. In essence it is really a series of sketches which do not quite coallesce but it is what it is and there is nothing wrong with that.

Judy Flynn: Sheila.
Abigail Thaw: Denise.
Julia: Rina Fatania.
Fay: Sarah Crowe.
Understudy: Tracy Collier.

Director: Joanna Read.
Set & Costume Designer: Liz Cooke.
Lighting Designer: Paul Anderson.
Composer & Sound Designer: Jon Nicholls.
Voice & Dialect Coach: Judith Phillips.
Fight Director: Philip D’Orleans.
Production Photographs: Craig Fuller.

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