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Stage Dragon Review: Sheila’s Island At The Yvonne Arnaud

Published on: 18 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 18 Feb, 2022

By Ferenc Hepp

Following a 2 year delay due to the pandemic, we were finally able to enjoy the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre’s own production of Sheila’s Island this week, written by Tim Firth and directed by the venue’s chief executive, Joanna Read.

Rina Fatania as Julie, Abigail Thaw as Denise, Judy Flynn as Sheila in Sheila’s Island at the Yvonne Arnaud. Photo by Craig Fuller.

The play is described as a comedy in thick fog, where The Office meets Lord of the Flies meets Miranda, with a cast of four: Sara Crowe (Private Lives Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Fay, Rina Fatania as Julie, Judy Flynn (Dinnerladies, Call The Midwife) as Sheila, and Abigail Thaw (Endeavour) as Denise.

These four managers from Pennine Mineral Water Ltd are on their annual Coping with Crisis team building exercise in the Lake District, and somehow end up on an island where they have to survive, work and get on with each other in very different surroundings to what they are used to back in their office environment.

Judy Flynn as Sheila, Rina Fatania as Julie, Sara Crowe as Fay and Abigail Thaw as Denise in Sheila’s Island at the Yvonne Arnaud. Photo by Craig Fuller.

The setting remains the same throughout, a part of this deserted island, with its wet, bumpy surface where the four women set up camp, which feels barren and claustrophobic but with a curiosity about the area beyond at the same time, setting the mood perfectly thanks to Liz Cooke as the set and costume designer and Paul Anderson as the lighting designer.

Sheila is the captain of the team and has the unenviable task of trying to lead this them out of trouble and working out clues about how to move onto the next stage of the exercise and get them off the island.

Judy Flynn as Sheila, Sara Crowe as Fay in Sheila’s Island at the Yvonne Arnaud. Photo by Craig Fuller.

Flynn, as Sheila, does come across as a team leader who has been put into this position somewhat against her will and makes things more complicated than necessary, but I would have liked to see more diverse range of emotions from her as the women were more and more concerned about their fate.

She goes from “calm is survival” in Act One to “we’re all at the end of our tether” in Act Two, but despite some highly comical moments, which include her first entrance wading through water and seeing “a slice of pizza floating onto shore” the character remains somewhat unchanged.

Similarly, Fatania, as Julie, portrays a rather stereotypical dumb character with not a huge amount of variation, but there is a twist which we discover later on about how prepared she was for this unexpected adventure which could potentially save the day and that does bring with it some highly comical moments.

Crowe, as Fay, is a religious woman and a follower who tries to get on with everyone, but is actually smarter than she first appears, and even though I have seen Crowe play similar characters in the past, she does have a lot of emotional and funny moments throughout.

My favourite portrayal comes from Thaw as Denise. She is a realist, sarcastic, points out that she has a very good standard of living, which includes “a memory foam mattress” and a sizeable residence, and brings everyone down to earth whenever they have fancy ideas about their escape plans.

There is a bit of everything in this show.

Plenty of belly laughs, situation comedy, slapstick, as well as more dramatic moments, especially after the interval, when tensions run high and the women’s relationship turns somewhat sour at times.

According to the author: “It’s an uncomfortable, muddy, bloody and messy play” but it is certainly fun.

Sheila’s Island runs until Saturday, February 19 before embarking on a national tour. Tickets are available at the box office on 01483 440000 or online at the Yvonne Arnaud website.

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