Treasure Island, New Vic Theatre, Staffordshire - review and pictures
If last year’s family show at The New Vic touched the heart, this year’s fairly whacks you on the back with the spirit of adventure.
I suspect director and adapter Theresa Heskins felt more at home with last year’s Snow Queen, which deservedly won national accolades as Best Show for Children and Young People at the UK Theatre Awards. This year she put it to a vote and as we know, when you do that you sometimes end up with a choice that isn’t your own.
Rejecting Christmas schmaltz, local schoolchildren opted resoundingly for the heat and gristle of Treasure Island and she has given it them with knobs on.
The result is a gift for teachers charged especially with firing up boys’ enthusiasm for storytelling, for engaging it surely is.
Mixed in with the dramatic sword and pistol fights, tussles high on ship’s rigging, and general skulduggery, there’s an intricate plot in which we learn that Long John Silver, like other pirate chiefs, is actually elected captain by his crew. Nor are greed and villainy his only attributes.
Teachers of the more than 30,000 children who will watch the performances for schools will have plenty to discuss with them before and after.
And girls aren’t forgotten. A winning trick is the casting of a Gem, rather than Jim, Hawkins. Nisa Cole plays this central character and narrator with verve and clarity, both as a serving maid when adventure is “only a dream in the back of my mind” and as stowaway on the Hispaniola when “sometimes a change of clothes is all that’s required” as she graduates from ‘cabin boy’ to handling the ship all on her own.
Apart from this change, Heskins’ adaptation is faithful to Robert Louis Stevenson’s yarn and includes all the best-known characters, from Captain Flint and Israel Hands to Squire Trelawney and Ben Gunn. As we’ve come to expect from her in these outstanding family shows, she makes full use of the vertical space, creates simple quickly-moved props which imaginatively set the scene for main deck or stockade, and gives us a visually spectacular finale.
Then there’s the music. The opening song is a wistful ballad from the snug of the Admiral Benbow: “A place where nothing ever happens.” Then in short order it’s ‘Yo-ho-ho, fifteen men on the dead man’s chest’ that comes at you like thrash metal. There’s nothing of the sea shanty about James Atherton’s full-on score. The second half opens like a rock concert headlining with Long John Silver and his backing band The Pirates, with drum kit, three electric guitars and two electric mandolins on stage and a second drum kit and sax playing behind the quarterdeck for good measure.
It shivered me timbers and worked a treat.
By John Hargreaves