Playing in rep with Neville’s Island (also written by Tim Firth), Sheila’s Island is a tale of four co-workers out on a team building exercise: one which leaves them lost and abandoned on a wet and miserable island just off the Derwent.
Alison Griffin directs this lively piece – and at this opening performance also stepped to play Denise, script-in-hand. The change hardly registered as she slotted in perfectly with the other three ladies out on an adventure.
Sheila (Frances Sherwin) is the elected leader, taking her inspired decisions from cryptic crosswords. Julie (Lesley McCall) is ultra organised, but her home life seems anything but.
This leaves Fay (Holly Gillanders), born-again Christian, and a little unstable. As the ladies bond and bicker under unfortunate circumstances, Firth finds humour in adversity, and Griffin finds style and substance in Alex Marker’s detailed set.
In the beautifully refurbished auditorum of the Questors’s Judi Dench Playhouse, Alasdair Graebner’s lighting and Jane Arnold-Forster’s sound offer a real sense of isolation, danger, and the surroundings, although the scene transitions could be a little faster.
This is a story of survival writ small, of families, loss, regret, loneliness, and friendship. Curiously, we find out the least about Sheila, other than her resolute belief in being right.
There are a lot of verbal and visual cues to keep Sheila’s Island moving, while Anne Gilmour’s costumes give a real sense of who these women are. Griffin’s Denise is all bad luck and barbed comments, while McCall’s Julie is den mother and scatty gran in one.
We may leave wondering about the characters we have heard about but never seen and wonder what their stories might have been, but there is enough here on the island to keep you guessing.
Sheila’s Island is an entertaining journey into crisis, which is both relatable and revelatory. As an amateur production, you may expect the odd rough edge, but this play shows the Questors company continuing to punch above their weight.
The Questors is currently celebrating its 90th year.
Image credit: Carla Evans