Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Sheila's Island

Tim Firth
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Exeter Northcott Theatre

Rina Fatania, Judy Flynn, Sara Crowe and Abigail Thaw

It’s a foggy, cold, firework-filled Bonfire Night and four middle-aged, middle-class, maybe menopausal, middle-management colleagues are on a team-building exercise, following clues around the Lake District.

Or at least they would be if the doyen of cryptic crosswords, their intrepid leader, the eponymous Sheila Judy Flynn (Dinnerladies, Shameless, Emil and the Detectives), hadn’t gone and got them stranded on a deserted island.

It may only be a mile to the hotel but there are razor-toothed four-foot pikes, Keswick District Council’s disco boat trip and 200m of icy water to deter even sharp-tongued wild swimmer Denise (Endeavour, The Strange Death of John Doe’s Abigail Thaw).

Tim Firth (Calendar Girls, Kinky Boots, The Band and Our House) has adapted his gentle 1992 hit comedy Neville’s Island for the all-female cast and so creating a Lord of The Flies meets Miranda for a thoroughly entertaining evening. The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre's chief executive Joanna Read directs the production, which has an atmospheric set and costumes by Liz Cooke, lighting by Paul Anderson and composition and sound by Jon Nicholls.

There are flaws galore but much to enjoy as Sheila’s experience as mother of twins and Girl Guide skills jollies her flagging crew along with homilies on keeping warm, keeping spirits up, keeping safe and staying alive while fashioning a rescue flag from a toasting fork and an orange Tupperware side plate.

Having worked her way from receptionist to Production Manager in 28 long years, Denise is acerbic, sharp-witted and longing for her waterside apartment, her memory foam mattress and a spa. Her stinging asides and joke grenades spiral into tirades of intolerance particularly aimed at the ditzy, increasingly hangry Julie (Best Actress in Theatre category at the Eastern Eye Awards Rina Fatania) whose bottomless rucksack contains combat frying pans, chopping boards of any size, a Ninja scimitar, crash helmets, safety kit, the best part of the entire stock of the Outdoor Survival shop in St Ann’s street and a stolen sausage.

And all the while, twitcher and unsteadily more twitchy Fay (Olivier Award winner Sara Crowe of Private Lives, Calendar Girls, Four Weddings and a Funeral) is watching and praying, unravelling and remembering.

There is still-warm blood, spatulas to be brandished, celebrity French cricket, Angus doing the dirty on the bread shelf at Aldi, God in the fridge, trout-bashing mobile phones, the international language of 'Kumbaya'…—what’s not to like?

Reviewer: Karen Bussell