Ingatestone & Fryerning Community Club Theatre
Saturday 25th May 2013
Tim Firth is currently firmly in the heart of the amateur theatre world, with productions of his modern classic Calendar Girls being performed by amateur societies up and down the country, and indeed all over the world. It is therefore refreshing to see that his back catalogue of work has not been forgotten, as Neville's Island offers a humorous script and challenging staging opportunities to make for a rewarding and entertaining production.
A group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-managers on a team building exercise in the Lake District, we join Team C as they run their boat ashore on a small island in the middle of a river a mile from their hotel. With just 4 characters, a cast of reliable leading men are required to deal with plenty of dialogue and action, including getting soaking wet, climbing a tree and smearing themselves with blood.
All four gentlemen gave recognisable characterisations of this team of flawed colleagues, each written with a level of realism or tragedy that gives this play depth and interest over and above the witty script. Neville, played by Tony Szalai, is level headed and accepting of responsibility, a born leader always watching over his team mates. Played with an assured confidence and well maintained characterisation Tony also led the cast in a very relaxed performance. Martin Reynolds took on the villain of the piece, self-centred Gordon, whose thoughtlessly acerbic comments failed to amuse his colleagues and were the source of both the comedy and tension in the script. Despite some moments of hesitancy with lines, Martin's performance was well pitched and convincing as the selfish bachelor. Super organised Angus was taken on by Duncan Hopgood in an intelligent performance. As Gordon's words ate away at his initial confidence he was left an uncertain shell of himself and the descent was well directed, developing gradually as the doubts planted by Gordon blossomed and grew. Roy Hobson was very convincing as breakdown recoveree Roy, who had found God while suffering with mental health issues after an attempted suicide, and who coped worst with Gordon's sarcastic nastiness. Dealing with a humorous storyline with such delicately realistic undertones is a difficult task, but this character was both directed and performed with well judged sensitivity, without losing the overall comic value of the situation.
The set was sturdily built, with an impressive full-height tree, strong rocks and a tree stump used as seating, and a wet pool to be fallen into from the first moments. The foliage upstage right was probably not needed and it would have been additionally atmospheric to attempt generating the fog mentioned throughout the script - although just a light haze rather than the impenetrable gloom described. The music and sound effects were well chosen, although the assistance of voices in the final track could not cover that the cast were still unsure of the song. Some excellent lighting equipment was also used to good effect to create the split scenes between the tree and the "camp", and to give the effect of the various approaching vehicles.
This was a tricky production to take on, but with a hard earned and rewarding result that was well received by an appreciative audience. A change of tone and another suicide storyline in IFDC's next venture, Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea in November.