Writer: Robert Louis Stevenson
Adaptor: Bryony Lavery
Director: Polly Findlay
The 2015 National Theatre Live production of Treasure Island, performed in The National Theatre, London offers a marvellous escape into a world of danger, murder and short-lived, but profound excitement.
The tale of an adventurous treasure hunt, everything Jim Hawkins (Patsy Ferran), the granddaughter of a rural inn-keeper, has dreamt of, is delivered seamlessly with the help of a myriad of characters. Growling old captains, scruffy rascals, a squire who knows-it-all and Jim’s private guardian in the face of Dr Livesey (Alexandra Maher) are only a few of them. And not to forget – a one legged villain of the deceiving type. The main storyline following Jim’s discovery of a treasure map in the sea-chest of a controversial inn visitor, is not as twisted and the actors’ clarity makes it easy to digest even through the small screen.
An engaging story of the late 19th century like this one does require a sense of darkness. As most scenes happen throughout the night however, the effect of clear sky nights ashore are not as effective like in the theatre. For this reason, scenes like the opening can be a little less captivating. In contrast, the close ups inevitably make the audience more engaged with the dialogue, jokes and overall actors’ performance. This does have its drawbacks as it can hide entrances and exits which can sometimes be crucial. Luckily there are only a few major scene transitions that require high pace action and the narrative delivery from Patsy Ferran plays a big part in steadying the pace by giving breadth to the excitement of a youngster thirsty for adventure. The amicably comical, yet largely pathetic in their abilities, crew recruited by the overly confident squire, indeed make the audience laugh throughout. Surprisingly, however, some of them also turn out quite successful in playing Long John Silver and his subordinates in the mutual search for gold.
The sharpness of Arthur Darvill and Joshua James’ performances comes through, especially in the latter’s monologues on his abandonment by a former gang of treasure seekers lead by Long John Silver himself. There is something about the skinny man, covered in dust, with barely any clothes on that invites a piteous resemblance of King Lear’s poor Tom left out wandering in the storm. Yet, it is the hilarious portrayal of the personalities Ban Gunn (Joshua James) developed over time that gets the occasional gag and keeps up the tempo of the play in the beginning of Act II.
Lastly, the intricately designed set, costumes and sound effects undoubtedly compensate for the lack of lighting for a home theatre experience. Being transported from a rusty old pub in West England, on to a voyage through the Pacific, through to the remnants of a tunnel system on a deserted island and back is not an easy job for a set designer. Seamless 360 degree set turns, raised platforms to help with representation of the ship deck, an underground, earthy, roots-like frame for the tunnels, all amaze as much as the effort behind changes choreographed to precision. Equally, sound effects, although at times predictable, send the audience back to a time such as their childhood when adventures, real or on paper, always appear so much more glamorous.
Leaning on a solid content that has spurred imagination for decades, this play has the ability to entertain both grown-ups and little ones through an engaging-for-the-eye and curious production.
Runs here until 23 April 2020