Sheila’s Island – Theatre Royal, Brighton – The Reviews Hub

Writer: Tim Firth

Director: Joanna Read

Reviewer: Lela Tredwell

Superbly talented cast claims this classic comedy island as their own.

It’s a wonder this play survived its rocky rebirth but theatre prevailed and what a delight for audiences that it did. Sheila’s Island is a dark comedy about the pressures of survival in the unforgiving landscape of the Lake District. In this beautifully constructed work of bathos, Team C of Pennine Mineral Water Ltd’s annual outward-bound team-building weekend find themselves stranded. Their struggles bring the audience much entertainment, laughter and nostalgia for a time when changing your underwear under a towel was the best option available. The playful mapping of the characters and events of William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies gives this tale hidden depths, as does the innovative gender flip this highly engaging production has made to Tim Firth’s original play Neville’s Island. 

From the moment we see the sodden motley crew of middle managers wash up on the craggy rocks we know we are in for a treat. The cast is made up of four exceptionally skilful actors who let us know immediately we are in capable hands. Rina Fatania knocks the audiences (dry) socks off with her perfect comic timing as the over-prepared under-perceptive Julie. Also holding their comedic own, Sara Crowe, Judy Flynn and Abigail Thaw breathe new life into these characters as they navigate the island and each other’s eccentricities.  

The beautifully designed set easily makes the island a fifth cast member. It’s looming presence from the moment we enter the theatre lets us know we’ve entered a no-man’s (waste)land with the whimsical contrast of a soundtrack that includes ‘I will Survive’ guaranteed to raise a smile. The backdrop of gnarly bare overlocking trees has the look of misted stained glass about it, giving us the strong sense, we have stumbled into a post-apocalyptic cathedral. 

But whose church is this? With themes of religion, faith, loss, betrayal and the battle for survival, there’s much more here to unpack than a few laughs over wet woolly hats. The question of how well do we know the people we work with, hangs over proceedings. We see snippets of the personal lives of the characters but we’re never far away from the reminder that these are colleagues and this is a work excursion gone array. The shift from a male casting of these characters to female has created much more for an audience to get their teeth into in musing over how much shared humanity there is here and in all of us. 

Sheila’s Island is an invigorating performance which will likely have you feeling nostalgic for Girl Guiding/Scouting expeditions, youth adventure holidays and camping as a kid. Although, it will also remind you why you’re glad those days are behind you. This highly engaging production does it all with a mischievous dollop of laughter, well-placed poignancy and a reminder of how we’re all just nature under our human. Or are we human under our nature? Whichever it is, better put a towel around it. 

Runs until 23 April 2022 

Reviews Hub Score

Invigorating performance