Team-bonding – two words to strike chills into the hearts of middle managers everywhere.
But there’s great comic potential when a weekend away with office co-workers goes horribly wrong.
A revival of Tim Firth’s play, Neville’s Island, proved a big hit last year with audiences at Chichester Festival Theatre.
It has now transferred, with almost a total change of cast, into the Duke Of York’s in London’s West End, 20 years after this buoyant comedy first opened.
I saw it in preview earlier this week and the production is far from wet. I laughed from start to finish.
Four middle managers from a Salford water company are sent on a “coping with crisis” weekend to the Lake District. All Neville, Gordon, Roy and Angus have to do is follow the clues.
But, as Gordon surfaces from the chilly waters of Derwentwater, you know things have gone awry.
Robert Innes Hopkins’ verdant set design is a little speck of Rampsholme Island in the centre of London (with rumbling accompaniment from the Northern Line) – complete with incessant rain.
It must be dismal for the cast getting soaked every night.
Wringing out their socks after their boat sinks, they find themselves with a top-of-the-range phone that’s on its last legs, three backpacks between four – and emergency rations of a single breakfast sausage between them.
It’s a crisis that has turned into a catastrophe – will they cope?
The interplay between the men is rich and sparky. But, like most of Firth’s plays, there’s a dark undercurrent.
Though called Neville’s Island, the eponymous marketing manager Neville (under-played by Neil Morrissey) doesn’t have much influence on the party after leading them astray.
That’s left to the remaining three.
Production manager Gordon (Adrian Edmondson, the only original cast member) has a lot to say on every subject and it’s all bile.
He’s understandably single and a sad, depressed and lonely cynic who pours scorn on the efforts of his team-mates while offering no solutions himself.
I must say that I was disappointed that Edmondson, a former Celebrity MasterChef winner, didn’t whip something up from the flora and fauna to accompany the sizzling sausage that’s cooked on stage.
The aroma from the porker made me feel quite peckish as it wafted out into the auditorium.
The over-equipped Angus (Miles Jupp) from distribution is forced to admit to the group that his wife was probably knocking-off a supermarket manager.
And Robert Webb’s splendid wild-eyed finance manager, the devout Christian, bird-watcher Roy, is recovering from a nervous breakdown. The others walk on eggshells around him.
The comedy and pathos are nicely balanced among the four flawed men without straying too far into Alan Ayckbourn territory.
The bulk of the dialogue falls to the aggressive, offensive and sarcastic Gordon who, at one point, spits out that their predicament is like “Lord Of The Files” (sic).
Neville proves ineffectual as team captain; the cuckolded Angus owns up to lack of initiative and drive while Roy becomes increasingly deranged, finally ending up half-naked in a tree singing the opening line from Oklahoma.
Firth has created four ordinary middle-aged, middle class, middle managers who are unlikely to rise up the greasy pole of promotion even if they ever get off the island.