Polly Findlay’s production of this version by Bryony Lavery of Stevenson’s novel was staged at the National in 2014 and is now available on You Tube until . It is a skilful and rumbustuous telling of the famous tale and Findlay and one assume Lavery have had the splendid idea of making Jim Hawkins, still called Jim, a girl – and the even better one in casting Patsy Ferran in the role. It is an evening of adventure, a splendid parrot, pirates sinister and stupid, castaways, maps and buried treasure narrated by Jim and larded with sea shanties and derring do. It also has, with the possible exception of Captain Hook, literature’s most celebrated pirate in Long John Silver here played by Arthur Darvell all surface niceness and when your back is turned utter ruthlessness, although less brio than some have in the past.
On the Olivier stage with all of its resources of lifts and revolves it must have been astonishing. Reduced to the screen it remains a great story well told but the lighting effects so clever in the theatre mean that quite a lot takes place in more darkness than it should and things like someone descending from the deck to the cabin below or the hold, which would have looked stunning in the theatre, just becomes a cut from one scene to the next. But for the audience it was aimed at this remains a terrific 75 minutes and even if it is not quite the book Stevenson wrote it is still a first rate piece of theatre which should appeal to girls every bit as much as the traditional version does to boys as the Hispanola with a distinctly dodgy crew sets off to find that buried treasure.
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Write a review, what to consider putting in that review, sketch the set – frankly asking too much given the lighting – or some of the costumes. Looking up the history of piracy which would certainly be a first rate home schooling ploy is another. Viewers could even think about the names of the pirates in the play and why they were so called, create their own pirate with his own name and design how he would look. But when all is said and done it is Ferran’s superb performance that lingers – Jim is bright, inventive, battles with her demons – she does get scared – and complains bitterly when she is not allowed to do something because she is a Cabin Girl. Nor is casting Jim the only change made, but it is the most important and could have sabotaged the whole thing. Ferran has, of course, gone on to show just how talented she is in subsequent roles.
Jim Hawkins: Patsy Ferran.
Grandma: Gillian Hanna.
Bill Bones: Aidan Kelly.
Dr Livesy: Alexandra Maher.
Squire Trelawny/Voice of the Parrot: Nick Fletcher.
Black Dog: Daniel Coonan.
Blind Pew: David Sterne.
Captain Smollett: Paul Dodds.
Long John Silver: Arthur Darville.
Israel Hands: Angela de Castro.
Ben Gunn Tim Samuels.
Captain Flint, the parrot: Ben Thompson.
Director: Polly Findlay.
Designer: Lizzie Clachan.
Lighting Designer: Bruno Poet.
Composer: John Tams.
Movement Director: Jack Murphy.
Fight Director: Bret Yount.
Illusions: Chris Fisher.
Production photograph: Johan Persson.