Sheila’s Island – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Reviewer: James Garrington

Writer: Tim Firth

Director: Daniele Sanderson

It’s November, and managers from Pennine Mineral Water are on an outward-bound team-building weekend. Team C has elected Sheila to lead them – and she believes her superior skills at solving cryptic crosswords will lead them to success. Unfortunately, all she’s managed to lead them to is a deserted island in the Lake District, and a wrecked boat that makes it impossible to get back to shore. As night falls, tempers get frayed, previously unspoken truths are told, and questions are asked. Is it possible to attract attention with a plastic plate and a toasting fork? What sort of weapon can you make with a plastic spatula? And what exactly DOES Angus do at Aldi?

This is a nicely put-together comedy by Tim Firth, with a good combination of storylines where everyone can see exactly where things are heading and plot twists that you probably won’t see coming, and it’s well done by the cast and creative team in this production. The team has transformed the Old Joint Stock into an island, with trees, a ground covered in bark, leaves and pine cones, and even a shingle beach, which creates an immersive feel to the production too.

The characterisations from the cast of four are excellent. Susan Graham is a nicely well-meaning Sheila, delighted with her perspicacity and devasted when it turns out to be flawed, but determined to play the role of leader as she’d been chosen to do the job. Kaz Luckins plays a delightfully dippy Julie, better-prepared than anyone could consider reasonable, and unthreatening as long as the elephant in the room remains unmentioned. Sarah Ratheram’s born-again Christian ornithologist Fay seems perfectly normal but has a secret that some people know (or think they know) and others don’t. Finally, there’s a superb performance from Dru Stephenson as Denise, sarcastic, forthright and outspoken, determined that she doesn’t want to spend a single night on this island and intolerant of the unspoken vibes around her.

The intimate space at the Old Joint Stock puts the audience very close to the cast, giving the actors nowhere to hide and making every expression and nuance visible – though occasionally it does feel as though the action is a little too close for comfort. The dialogue would benefit from a little more clarity during the first page or two, but it quickly settles down and creates an enjoyable experience.

Finally, credit must be given to whoever the unnamed person is who assembled a vast and eclectic mix of props for the production – along with a set that’s as realistic as you can make it in a small room; they give the production a good authenticity.

Sheila’s Island is a very relatable play for anyone who’s been sent on one of these team-building outings, well-delivered by the cast and team at the Old Joint Stock. Well worth a visit.

Runs until 14 October 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Relatable and well-delivered.

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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