The Christmas season is upon us, and that can only mean one thing in Theatreland – every playhouse enticing family audiences in with their own versions of classic stories, either in traditional Pantomime, or in family plays, or, as in the case of this version of Treasure Island, something that sits somewhere between the two.
The story has been adapted by Steve Eagles from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel of adventure and swashbuckle, and the production is certainly given a very energetic and committed performance by every one of its cast, which mixes experienced stage professionals with students just out of college or still studying at Birmingham Ormiston Academy.
Gianni Cantone and Charlotte Swarbrick lead the company confidently as young Jim Hawkins and his friend Jesse (a welcome addition to the story, demonstrating, as the writer adds in his notes, that “girls have adventures too”). Ian Crowe (Long John Silver) and Barry Shannon (Doctor Livesey/Israel Hands) lead the experienced cast members, also adding to the very effective live music throughout the show.
It’s a shame to have to report then that, sadly, the story overall is a bit of a confused mess. If it wants to be a panto, where is the villain to boo? There are a few moments of traditional audience participation, which my seven year old co-reviewer eagerly joined in with, but confusion about who the real villain is. Silver is played (very well) as a loveable rogue, ultimately forgiven. His partner, Israel Hands, is shown to be the more villainous of the two, and does indeed encourage booing, but only appears in this guise in one very short scene in act 1. When he reappears in act 2 he is immediately drunk, no threat to our heroes, and, worst of all, leads us into a dream (or should I say nightmare) featuring two utterly ridiculous full sized parrots, who’s only function seemed to be to waste a bit of time with a couple of terrible cracker jokes. The end of the story was perfunctory in the extreme. It felt like there was something missing.
If the story wants to be a family play, there needs to be more drama to balance out the comedy. I also felt the character of the Mermaid Princess, very well sung by Ella Vize, was problematic, as she never actually interacted with the people she was trying to help. The “fairy” character can often also act as narrator in these stories, but it just felt disjointed that she never actually spoke directly to the other characters. My seven year old partner also asked why she “just flapped her hands all the time”.
As I said before, the performances were all thoroughly committed to ensuring the audience had a good time. And on this press night they certainly got a good response at the end of the show. But there were a sizeable number of BOA students in the audience supporting their colleagues, and responding to them personally and not necessarily their characters. I do feel that, when faced with a more mixed age audience, with less personal connection to the cast, the actors might struggle to get such a response. I hope not, as their energy alone deserves much credit.
I shall leave the final words to my young companion, who had the following comments to make on the evening; “It was really funny. I liked Jim and Jesse, when they fell out, and became friends again. I liked the storm scene; that was clever. There were some bits I didn’t understand; when the parrot [Beaky Rascal] did his song I couldn’t understand any of the words. And they didn’t need the parrot scene [with the two full sized parrots]. It was a really silly idea to put that in. But I did have a good time.”
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