Sheila’s Island – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Reviewer: Jamie Barnes

Writer: Tim Firth

Director: Joanna Read

Sheila’s Island is a genderbent reimagining of Tim Firth’s 1992 comedy play Neville’s Island, adapted for an all-female cast. While the show offers plenty of laughs throughout, it is evident that it is catered towards a small and specific demographic, and occasionally lacks the substance and consistency to efficiently carry the story.

The play sees four women (Sheila, Denise, Julie, and Fay) stranded on a small island in the Lake District after an incident during a team building exercise. Elected team captain Sheila(Judy Flynn) struggles to keep her team alive and morale up as the group face a variety of issues such as hunger, cold weather, and a possible killer, as well as their own interpersonal issues. The show meanders a little in the beginning, taking a while to get into the story, and it suffers at various points where scenes tend to drag without narrative or character development, but overall the story is engaging and entertaining. It is overwhelmingly clear that the show is very middle-class and middle-aged, in both content and appeal.

Abigail Thaw’s Denise and Rina Fatania’s Julie provide the majority of the laughs with their volatile and unhinged dynamic, which becomes more imbalanced as the characters start to lose their wits. On the other hand, Fay (Sara Crowe) lends the emotional side to the story, balancing the team with her loveable appeal. Each cast member delivers a strong performance of the middle-aged, middle-class, middle-management type in their own unique way.

Despite the scenario in which the characters find themselves, there is very little sense of danger throughout the play, with a few exceptions which are often very quickly dispelled, and despite the brief mention of some heavy subject matter, the show can’t quite categorise itself as a dark comedy, nor does it hold enough elements of drama to proclaim itself a dramedy. As a result, the energy of the play is held at an indecisive midpoint between comedy and drama, and the narrative occasionally suffers when a joke doesn’t quite land, or an emotional beat is lost in the aftershock of a comedic moment. Additionally, some of the interactions and dialogue are a little clunky in places, which stalls the pace, but generally the action is enjoyable to witness.

Liz Cooke’s set design is the element that brings the story to life. Complete with uneven ground, eerie trees, and a water tank, the set plays an active part in the production, becoming not just the setting, but allowing the island to become the antagonist in the story. Combined with the sound and lighting, the creative design of the play is integral to the performance, adding the much needed substance to the show.

Sheila’s Island is at risk of missing the mark when it comes to a well-rounded performance, but the issues are small, and would provide a great source of entertainment to an audience who are able to look past them. The show has great potential, and while the creases haven’t yet been ironed out, it still offers undeniable amusement and absurdity.

Runs until 19 February 2022 and then tours 

The Reviews Hub Score

Imperfect but has potential

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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