A review by local resident Paul Little of the latest production by Charlton’s amateur theatre group – the Alexandra Players. For more details of the group contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The play Neville’s Island brings to mind the 1954 novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding. In that novel, Golding uses children to show man’s capable descent into turmoil and savagery. In his play Tim Firth chooses to use four middle aged, middle management men to do near on the same. These men are stranded though, not on some remote exotic island, but upon the wet and cold environs of Rampsholme Island on Derwentwater in the Lake District. However, Neville, Gordon, Angus and Roy’s descent is equally as quick as Ralph and his allies in Lord of the Flies and the play demonstrates how they are brought down by the rumours and prejudices they have cultivated in their office environment and which now bloom on the island.
If this rather quick synopsis makes the play sound overly serious, a glance at the subtitle of the play (‘A comedy in thick fog’) points out its aims towards a mixture of comedy and darkness. This is not an easy balance to achieve and it is this tightrope that director Antonia Mochan – directing her first play for the Alexandra Players – must tread on. She does it admirably well. The production combines successfully almost slapstick like moments along with intimate revelations by certain characters. This allows Mochan to position the audience in such a way that they are not tipped wholly into mirth or reflection at any one time but are still reciprocal to both.
The pace of the play was quick and this produced the one flaw of the evening and that was the clapping which happened between every scene. This might have been due to an overzealous audience member, or maybe it was a ruse by the players to disguise the changes and accompanying noises between scenes. Whatever the reason, this enforced clapping served to break up the flow of the play and disrupt the audience’s concentration from the stage.
This, however, is but a minor niggle and special mention must go to the very resourceful Dave Townsend. He designed a set that uses the limited space on offer very well and gave a real sense of depth to the small stage. Particular mention must be given to the ‘lookout tree’ which, when bathed in green light, becomes very effective in contributing to that mixture of humour and pathos.
It was Keith Hartley playing the character of Roy, a man coming apart once more at the seams, who was frequently up that tree. Hartley played the character subtlety enough making Roy a man subject in equal measure to the annoyances and sympathy of the audience. This is not to say the other three actors didn’t equip themselves very well, but Hartley edged ahead by being gifted those rare alone times on stage. Even when he was stripped to just his underpants and was constantly reciting the opening line to the song ‘Oklahoma’, he commanded attention of the serious and comic kind.
The play ran for four nights and its success places one more good production under the belts of the versatile Alexandra Players. It will be interesting to see what they tackle next.