The four men who find themselves stranded on an island in the middle of a river after their boat sinks on a team-building exercise may be all hurtling towards middle-age, and full of tangible disappointments about how they've ended up here; but Tim Firth's play Neville's Island in which they feature isn't showing its age at all.
First premiered at Scarborough back in 1992, it subsequently played at the West End's Apollo Theatre a full twenty years ago; now it returns, modestly updated with references to mobile phones (though the battery life of the one they have can only sustain one call), but feels as alert and alive now in its comic desperation as it ever was.
Like Firth's playwrighting mentor Alan Ayckbourn, it's a play that offers a recognisable set of superbly written characters who are propelled into an extraordinary situation, and that isn't afraid to go to some dark, scary places.
This isn't just a dark night of soul-searching for each of them, but a Lord of the Flies battle of survival and dominance. It requires, and gets, four expertly tuned performances in Angus Jackson's production that originated at Chichester last year. That three of the four actors have been re-cast since then has shuffled the dynamics a bit so that all of them now have some television recognition, but it's no worse for that.
Adrian Edmondson, Miles Jupp, Neil Morrissey and Robert Webb may play men variously isolated in anguish and uncertainty, but they come together as an ensemble you care deeply for.
"Adrian Edmondson, is also first-rate as Gordon...Robert Webb is quietly touching as the devout ornithologist...Miles Jupp writhes plausibly as the wife-loving Angus plagued by fears of cuckoldry, and Neil Morrissey does all he can with the faintly nebulous Neville."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"After a while, no one in the theatre could have been yearning to get off Neville’s Island more than me. It feels like a rather feeble comedy sketch that had been stretched out of all recognition into a two-and-a-half-hour play."
Tim Walker for The Telegraph
"Owing to all that standing water, the auditorium of the Duke of York’s smells like the aquarium at a bad zoo. Pongeroo. Sadly, the water is not the only stagnant thing here."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"Ultimately, though, the problem is that the play feels flabby. The idea would sustain an episode of a sitcom, but stretched beyond two hours it seems much too thin."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard