Review: Sheila’s Island, MAST Mayflower Studios, Southampton

Review: Sheila’s Island, MAST Mayflower Studios, Southampton

by Martin Brisland.

Want cheering up? Then this comedy drama is for you and had the audience laughing throughout. Think Lord of the Flies meets Dinnerladies meets Miranda and The Office.

Described as “a comedy in thick fog”, Sheila’s Island is a reimagining of Tim Firth’s 1992  play Neville’s Island, adapted for an all-female cast. It is a Yvonne Arnaud Theatre production from its Director Joanna Read. The witty script has enough twists and variety to hold an audience, and to lift Sheila’s Island from clear-cut comedy to tickle the edges of something darker.

The play sees four women (Sheila, Denise, Julie, and Fay) , played by a highly experienced cast, stranded on Bonfire Night on a small island after their boat crashes. These four managers from Pennine Mineral Water Ltd are on their annual Coping with Crisis team building exercise in the Lake District. On the island they have to survive, work and get on with each other in very different surroundings to those they are used to back in their office.

Team captain Sheila (Judy Flynn) struggles to keep her team alive and morale up as the group face a variety of issues such as hunger, cold weather, and a possible killer, as well as their own interpersonal issues. She goes from “calm is survival” in Act One to “we’re all at the end of our tether” in Act Two. Sheila has some highly comical moments, which include her first entrance wading through water and later seeing “a slice of pizza floating onto shore”.

Abigail Thaw’s Denise and Rina Fatania’s Julie provide the majority of the laughs with their volatile dynamic, which becomes more imbalanced as the characters get hungrier and they start to lose their wits.

The more acidic nature of Abigail Thaw’s Denise gets some of the best lines. Denise is a realist and often sarcastic. Proud of her memory foam mattress she brings everyone down to earth whenever they have fancy ideas about their escape plans. Rina Fatania, as Julie, initially portrays a rather stereotypical dumb character but develops into a much stronger person. Her large kit bag full of endless camping store supplies provides an excellent running joke.

Sara Crowe as Fay lends the emotional side to the story, balancing the team with her loveable appeal. Fay is a religious woman and her history with mental health issues and taking extended time away from work is sympathetically done.

Each cast member delivers an excellent performance of the middle-aged, middle-class, middle-management type.

The atmospheric setting remains the same throughout, a part of this deserted island, with its wet, bumpy surface where the four women set up camp. You can believe you are there with the characters on the island.

Sheila’s Island has plenty of laughs, comedy and slapstick. The scene about sharing the one sausage they have between them made me laugh out loud as did the scene where they made a flag from a branch, a plastic plate and a fork.

There are more dramatic moments when mobile phones die and hunger takes over. In the second act tensions run high, social niceties disappear and the women’s relationships turn 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 is at MAST Mayflower Studios until 19th March. For tickets and more information, visit

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