The most remarkable transformation has been wrought in Chichester’s temporary performance space.
In the middle of a tent in a park is an island on a lake in a piece of staging which quite takes the breath away when you first see it – the perfect setting for Adrian Edmondson, as Gordon, to make surely the most extraordinary entrance ever seen in the CFT’s 51-year-history.
Whether the play itself actually then lives up to either start or set is probably debatable, but it’s still an enjoyable evening as we watch four outward-bound middle managers descend towards savagery and insanity after being shipwrecked in the Lake District.
Edmondson is superb as the ghastly Gordon shredding everyone with his sarcasm, goading and mocking without thought for the consequences. But we see the void in his heart long before the others rise up against it, and his constantly-withering, whingeing tone becomes just a touch wearing – a flaw in the play, rather than the performance.
Among his victims is a lugubrious, over-organised Angus (Tim McMullan) in whom Gordon touches a raw nerve with his taunts of possible infidelity back home, and Roy (beautifully played by Rufus Hound), a fragile born-again Christian with a dark secret and a history of mental illness.
Completing the quartet is John Marquez as the self-appointed leader Neville, a rather colourless creation with whom Marquez does all that he possibly can.
The thrust of the play is the mental disintegration, as the Aussies liked to call it, which Gordon inflicts on the two more vulnerable members of the party, and at times you can’t help wishing there was just a little bit more to the play than that.
The surreal ending doesn’t give it the substance it’s lacking.
But along the way, there are certainly plenty of laughs as the foursome bicker, improvise and watch in horror as their possible saviours turn out to be cruising, karaoke-ing local government officers who don’t even know they are there.
Dramatist Tim Firth and director Angus Jackson between them tease out all the antagonisms, and (the character) Angus’ bottomless rucksack adds to the laughter as office politics collide with Lord of the Flies (or Files, as one of the characters calls it).
But in the end, for all the giggles on Neville’s Island, Chichester’s magnificent Theatre in the Park will be the summer’s abiding memory – rather than the two productions it has staged.