Writer: Robert Louis Stevenson
Adaptor: Kate Ferguson
Music and lyrics: Susannah Pearse
Director: Tim Jackson
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
The still temporary homeless Octagon Theatre in Bolton set sail down the road to The University of Bolton football stadium to deliver their new family musical Treasure Island. As much a staple in the festive Christmas show fold as rum on board a pirate ship, Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel has a new adaptation taking us aboard the Hispaniola all the way to the island where ‘X’ marks the spot.
The first thing to mention about this production is the venue. The stadium’s Premier Suite is a huge function suite. The theatre’s technicians have brought everything required to transform the space but with its hundreds of rowed seats and a vast, wide stage it is hard to quite suspend our disbelief from Bolton to Bristol, from Horwich to The Hispaniola. (Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas in the interval does little to help!) It is a shame as with a more intimate setting this new musical from Kate Ferguson and Susannah Pearse would connect much better with its audience.
Young Jim Hawkins (Ami Okumura Jones) stows away to have an adventure of a lifetime after discovering a treasure map in the pocket of recently deceased pirate Billy Bones (Henry Bauckham). ‘Befriended’ by the dastardly Long John Silver (Jack Lord) they sail the seas to find their prize accompanied by the equally greedy Squire Trelawney. A few double-crossings later friendships are tested as Silver tries to steal the booty for himself. It is the original pirate tale that spawned a hundred offshoots. Ferguson and Pearse have taken the classic story and written a show more akin to Cbeebies’ Swashbuckle than Pirates of the Caribbean.
That said there is much fun to be had – especially Jack Lord’s Long John Silver who has more than a little Jack Sparrow to him. The cast of singer actor-musicians are accompanied by a large young company taking, in the main, the role of the pirate crew and who are very strong. Pearse gives them some amusing songs especially about being given the cursed Black Spot or about pirates who are trying to conceal their identities to mind their Ps and Qs but especially their Rs. The silliness in song continues into the second half with the very camp Squire Trelawney (Ben Simon) delighting in arriving at the island and the appearance of Ben Gunn (also Henry Bauckham) who has a dreamlike song about his craving for cheese which results in the entire cast dressed in an array of costumes tempting his desire and two giant inflatable cheese balls bouncing around the audience!
With a switch of pronoun from him to her (and a brief reference to Jemima Hawkins) Ami Okumura Jones plays Jim Hawkins with a strong Boltonian accent. Recently graduated she is pitted against experienced actor Jack Lord as Silver. With the traditional West Country accent Lord takes much pleasure in being the villain as the show definitely has much more of a pantomimic quality than that of thriller. On the one hand we lose the threat and jeopardy facing Hawkins as she struggles to keep a mutinous crew from murder, but on the other hand we gain a light-hearted family musical intended to keep a young audience entertained and amused.
With such a wide playing space director Tim Jackson struggles to keep the show focussed and pack a punch. An intimate Christmas show this is not but if you fancy spending a couple of hours having a light-hearted adventure and introducing the story of Treasure Island with some silliness to young eyes then this production might be for you.
Runs until 28 December 2019 | Image: The Other Richard