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The Pressure Rises on Sheila's Island

L-R: Tina Shinkwin as Julie, Ruth MacCallum as Fay (back), Kim Arnold as Sheila, Katie-Anne Ray as Denise.  Photo credits Robert Warner and Peter Weston.

Sheila’s Island, Talisman Theatre and Arts Centre, Kenilworth, Monday 20 May - Saturday 25 May 2024.

Review by Ashley Hayward.


It is chilly November and four female middle managers from a bottled water company are sent to the Lake District to take part in a team building exercise but there are disastrous consequences much to the amusement of the first night audience at the Talisman.

Sheila is the elected captain of the group but unfortunately, she decides to draw on her expertise in solving cryptic crosswords and ends up over complicating everything. Initially she misinterprets some instructions which leads to the team unwittingly stealing a boat which they then manage to sink and end up stranded on a tiny island in Derwent Water!

(Sadly, the actor who was to play Sheila was taken ill and her part was admirably taken over by the director Jill Laurie with the aid of a script.)

Sheila's Island at the Talisman until 25 May. Photo credits Robert Warner and Peter Weston.

We learn an awful lot about Sheila and her colleagues once they arrive at the island feeling wet, cold, hungry and thoroughly miserable. One of the other participants is Denise – a sharp tongued malcontent played with relish by Katie-Anne Ray as she frequently panics and becomes very sarcastic and personally abusive to her colleagues.

Ruth MacCullum gives a warm hearted and gentle interpretation as Fay, the third member of the team. She is deeply religious and eternally optimistic but disliked by the other group members because she has recently returned from an extended period of paid compassionate leave following a nervous breakdown. She manages to use some of the time on the island to pursue her interest in ornithology!

Finally, there is Julie for whom Tina Shinkwin gives a strong performance. She has been fast tracked to her management position much to the annoyance of Denise. She certainly over prepared for the event and seemed to have packed everything except the kitchen sink!

Playing for laughs. Photo credits Robert Warner and Peter Weston.

There are many hilarious moments throughout the women’s adventure including the participants trying to show their resourcefulness by making a weapon out of a bra and spatula and a rescue flag from a plastic plate and a toasting fork.

Julie also produces a state-of-the-art mobile phone from her remarkable rucksack and reassures the others that a quick call to her husband should solve everything. Sadly, she leaves a very long and confusing message and uses up all of the battery. Her bottomless bag also contained a flare which they only discovered when it was too late because, by then, it was bonfire night and there was a nearby fireworks display!

The imaginative set certainly gave the impression of an inhospitable wood on a bleak island in November and there were some very effective sound effects and clever lighting.

Katie-Anne Ray and Tina Shinkwin. Photo credits Robert Warner and Peter Weston.

Even though all four characters are believable and recognisable, I’m sure there are some that would not like the way that Tim Firth’s script generally portrays women as not coping well under pressure. Similarly, the attitudes expressed towards mental health and religion were very unsympathetic.

However, under Jill Laurie’s direction these female actors certainly dealt with the additional pressure of losing one of the performers and they worked extremely hard to bring the comedy to life and get as many laughs as possible.

Judging by the enthusiastic reaction from the audience they definitely succeeded.



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