Writer & Director: Joanna Carrick (Source material: Robert Louis Stevenson)
Reviewer: Paul Pearce-Couch
When Robert Louis Stevenson started writing Treasure Island in 1881, it was a boys’ own adventure tale for children of the well-to-do but, as usual, Red Rose Chain takes it and creates something quite surreal.
While Joanna Carrick has kept with Stevenson’s original plot, the story is almost secondary to the express train performances of the three cast members, Claire Lloyd, Joel Macey, and Ryan Penny.
Fictional Red Rose company members Gideon the general dogsbody (Penny) and Mandy (from accounts), played by Lloyd, discover that the rest of the company has been accidentally dispatched to the seaside, leaving behind an audience and an array of odd costumes and props. Rather than disappoint the audience, they offer to stage the show themselves. Enter Dale (Macey), a UPS delivery driver with a large box.
However, before you can sing “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” Dale has started spouting sea shanties and morphs into Billy Bones, where Stevenson’s story starts. It’s a play within a play and an ingenious way to produce a seasonal show on a shoestring.
Penny and Lloyd become Jim Hawkins and his mother, respectively, before all three slip effortlessly into every other character: Silver, the Doctor, the Squire, Blind Pew, Smollett – they’re all there (including Captain Flint, the parrot) and Lloyd gives a splendidly bonkers Ben Gunn. The ensuing action is riotous, with quick-changes, clowning and pratfalls galore.
Parents who fret about the bawdiness and double entendres of traditional pantomimes need not fear. Carrick’s Treasure Island is a model of wholesomeness that even the youngest of children might be exposed to without danger of corruption. And that may be its shortcoming. While Red Rose Chain is at pains from the outset to position Treasure Island as a Christmas story rather than a pantomime, there is room for some stratification of the humour so it sustains the adult audience as well as the little ones. We want some music hall lewdness that will sail over the heads of the children, even if it’s just a knowing aside; let’s be honest, when you’re talking sea voyages, there’s plenty of material to work with.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with Treasure Island, it’s well thought-out, adeptly performed – it’s just that, once the slapstick humour reaches critical mass, it doesn’t change much; there’s little contrast and it all becomes a little samey after a while. It lacks the whimsical charm of The Tale of Mr Tod and the engaging sophistication of The Magic Fishbone, but the explosive enthusiasm of the cast more than makes up for that. If it can attract its intended audience, Treasure Island should do well.
Runs until 2 January 2017 | Image: Bill Jackson