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Treasure Island, Birmingham Rep - review and pictures

Birmingham | Entertainment | Published:

Avast there, me hearties. Mark well me advice. Weigh anchors, hoist the mizzens and set a course for Birmingham REP where Robert Louis Stevenson's classic pirate tale is set to entertain families over the Christmas season.

Unfortunately, I have to say that my buckler was not particularly swashed on this occasion for a number of reasons.

It may be that the novel has declined in popularity. A recent BBC Big Read list places it at No 36 with C S Lewis's Lion Witch and Wardrobe at No 10, Tolstoy's War and Peace at No 20 and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude at No 32.

Michael Hodgson as Long John Silver and Sarah Middleton as Jim

It has a large number of characters, which means that setting the scene and the plot is rather cumbersome and wordy. In fact the whole production takes almost three hours and it has been promoted as a family show suitable for children of seven years and upwards. I suspect that many younger audience members will find it too long on dialogue and a little short on action.

There's not an, "Arrrr," to be heard as the pirate crew avoid the Hollywood stereotypes like the plague, and some of the minor roles are not given much opportunity to establish their identities.

Suzanne Nixon as Captain Flint and Sarah Middleton as Jim

There are some interesting scenes. Long John Silver takes time and patience explaining to cabin-girl Jim how to navigate by the stars, using a myriad of lanterns hanging in the auditorium as visual aids. But what he tells her places the ship somewhere just South of Iceland rather than just North of Antigua where Stevenson had placed his mythical island.

Phillip Breen's production has much, though, that is admirable. The set, by Mark Bailey, is most impressive, especially when the stage is transformed into the schooner Hispaniola which rises majestically from the floor using the REP's considerable technical resources to create a multi-layered acting space. There's also bags which apparently magically hold much larger objects than would seem possible.

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Andrea Davy as Red Ruth

Bryony Lavery's adaptation changes gender assignment here and there. Young Jim Hawkins is now a girl—after all, "girls can have adventures too," she says. Sarah Middleton makes a brave and likable character of the role, standing up to the cut-throat ruffians as they try to find the hidden gold no matter what the cost.

Michael Hodgson, as Long John Silver, becomes a man with a crutch rather than a fearsome wooden-legged buccaneer and sets out to win Jim's compliance by a charm-offensive. The parrot role is provided by a puppet, which isn't always convincing. Thomas Pickles play the marooned Ben Gunn who apparently has developed a split-personality.

Sarah Middleton as Jim

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The large cast carry the sprawling tale to its spectacular finale in a way which is totally ship-shape and Bristol-fashion and there's a nice touch where the musical interludes are delivered by the cast on stage.

It's a big and finely-detailed performance which essentially captures the spirit of the original story but perhaps needs a little more in the way of character.

Treasure Island may float your boat until January.

By Jerald Smith

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