Rain pours down on a verdant inlet and the perfume of pines fills the auditorium. Stormy camps, reluctant kindling and a fragile grasp on fortitude.
These things are presented like a sensory overture before the first member of this blue-chip cast steps foot on Neville’s Island thanks to Robert Innes Hopkins’ perpetually damp lakeside set.
And when they do arrive – Gordon, Angus, Neville and Roy – they make a splash. Gordon, particularly, as he swims ashore through the ever present puddles (front row beware). Water cascades from anorak sleeves, serving to separate the plucky stoics from the griping moaners.
They dry and dress – not an easy thing on stage – and set about their purpose. This is a Lake District team-building challenge gone hopelessly wrong and likely to turn Lord Of The Flies if the inner demons of the middle aged middle managers of Pennine Mineral Water are unleashed.
And you can bet they will be as a cold night approaches on Rampsholme.
The cast is more than a match for Tim Firth’s updated 1992 script, peppered with lush jibes and neat reversals.
Indeed, packing in a few more one-liners would help a story that is (physically) discomforting even for us watchers from the shore.
There are some good visual gags in a busy production – Angus’ rucsac is a Tardis of useful equipment – from chopping boards to dinner jackets – while Roy’s, er, religious conversion (no spoilers here) is a neat twist on a theme.
Adrian Edmondson, as sarcastic chip-on-his-shoulder Gordon, leads the line in a sure-footed performance.
He gets the best gags and when he is off-stage, energy sags, which says something – for his compatriots are Miles Jupp (Angus), Neil Morrissey (Neville) and Robert Webb (Roy) – all fine comedy names.
Uptight Angus and weedy Roy each have a dark secret that will find voice as the hours pass while Neville, the nominal leader, has nothing much to do but keep things together, which wastes Morrissey’s patented hangdog shtick.
All the parts are underpowered as Tim Firth tries to pack into one box both the comedic potential of urban middle managers going all Bear Grylls and the collapse of their out-of-office personas.
Each theme is compromised but comedy must win and the inevitable meltdowns should be viewed through the lens labelled “black comedy” rather than “existential crisis” if the piece is to hold together.
Until Jan 3, £15-£85, 7.30pm (mats), atgtickets.com
Duke Of York’s Theatre