by Robert Louis Stevenson adapted by Toby Hulse.
Watermill Theatre Bagnor RG20 8AE To 2 January 2011.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 01635 46044.
Review Mark Courtice 29 November.
A pirate’s life is just the thing for a young audience.
Emily dreams of being a pirate, although wanting to be a businesswoman would be more sensible. Tonight her dream comes to life in a version of Stevenson’s classic tale. She’ll be Jim Hawkins in the story of wicked pirates, good old English pluck and buried treasure.
Treasure Island is problematic Christmas family entertainment; the characters are all men, there’s a succession of violent fights, with a death rate only slightly less than that of Hamlet, there are precious few jokes and no opportunities for audience involvement.
Toby Hulse’s new adaptation recognises this. Alongside the girl hero, he cleverly uses audience participation to make the climactic fight more involving than it usually is. He also makes space for the power of young imaginations to get to work.
This is a post-modern version, which takes time-out from story-telling mode when the going gets particularly murderous or bloody. Mostly this sophisticated structure tells Stevenson’s adventure story clearly, while not being too frightening, although it disrupts the flow when the show breaks off for dialectic on the morality of piracy.
Robin Belfield’s fizzing production does well to keep up a pell-mell pace. Six clever actors slip effectively between characters, keeping them consistent and rounded.
The performances are excellent, with few acting allowances having to be made for a company who also play the music. Patrick Driver is particularly impressive as Long John Silver – wicked, tough and reliably unreliable, but his colleagues are all committed and convincing too, relating comfortably to their young audience.
Everything is helped by Hayley Grindle’s evocative designs. It may seem simple to change character by putting on a different hat, but the costumes are full of interesting detail. The set is authentically grotty and neatly effective in changing locations from inn to shipboard. The transformation to the island, and the revelation of the properly sumptuous pirate treasure are theatrical delights.
Powered on by Simon Slater’s rumbustious score, which combines shanties and rollicking songs, this adaptation gives Stevenson’s old story a new, vigorous lease of life, making choosing the pirate life seem like a sensible career choice.
Emily/Jim Hawkins: Emily Butterfield.
One-eyed Bart/Dr Livesey/Israel Hands/Dick Johnson: Howard Coggins.
Morgan Blood/Blind Pew/Long John Silver: Patrick Driver.
Henry Payne/Black Dog/Captain Smollett/George Merry: Nicholas Goode.
Jack Abraham/Billy Bones/Ben Gunn/Samuel Hunter/Tom Morgan: Morgan Philpott.
Mary-Ann Evans/Jim’s Mother/Patrick O’Brien: Katherine Toy.
Director: Robin Belfield.
Designer: Hayley Grindle.
Lighting: Mark Dymock.
Sound: Peter Rice.
Music: Simon Slater.