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1st April 2022

Review: Shelia’s Island

Hannah Wellock reviews Sheila’s Island at the Lowry
Review: Shelia’s Island
Photo: Craig Fuller.

Shelia’s Island at the Lowry – where to start? It definitely missed the mark.

Shelia’s Island follows four women as they try to survive the night in the Lake District after a work team-building activity goes wrong. Having read the first clue wrong, Shelia – the self-appointed captain of the group – leads the other 3 women onto a desert island in the middle of Derwent Water after capsizing their boat.

The plot does not go much further than that.

The play’s cast is pretty great. Sara Crowe (Private Lives  FourWeddings and a Funeral) plays Fay, Rina Fatania plays Julie, Judy Flynn (Dinnerladies, Call The Midwife) plays Sheila, and Abigail Thaw (Endeavour) plays Denise

That said, their characters each fill some form of stereotype: Shelia – the control freak, Julie – the lady of luxury, Denise – the ‘fat’ one, and Fay – the ‘doolally’, devout Christian.

Denise became the butt of all the jokes, all of which revolved around her weight or her lack of intellect. As the only person of colour in the play, it felt disrespectful and out of touch with our views, especially in such a multicultural city like Manchester. 

The reaction to the character Fay was also incredibly problematic. At every given chance, there was a joke made about her faith. You’d think by now we were at a point where we respected everyone’s individual choices. It completely missed the beat of comedy; there’s jokes, there’s crossing the line, and then there’s being downright offensive.

We learnt that Fay had been grieving somebody and had taken some time off work as a result; Julia then continually labelled Fay as ‘doolally’. Not only is ‘doolally’ a tone-deaf and dated description of mental health, but it was also completely unnecessary and dismissive of this reaction to grief.

Me and Jess Walmsley. Photo: The Mancunion

The average age of the audience was easily 50 and above – we were the youngest there by a mile. The target demographic seemed to be the White, middle-aged, middle class. 

The most worrying thing about this whole experience was the reaction of the audience. Each joke was met with barrels of laughter. Time and time again I felt like I missed the punchline. If this is what people find funny then I can’t even begin to think how they treat people in their everyday lives? 

To describe this play as “The Office meets Lord of the Flies meets Miranda”, as it does in all the promotional information, is an insult to Miranda Hart herself.

If you fancy being trapped on Sheila’s Island – dying to be saved by the interval so you can make a sneaky escape – the play runs at the Lowry (Lyric Theatre) until 2nd April before continuing its UK tour until mid May.

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