Writer: Robert Louis Stevenson
Adapted by: Nick Lane
Director/Choreographer: Erin Carter
Composer/Musical Director: Simon Slater
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
How do you set about creating a suitable Christmas show for a regional theatre, a show that isn’t a pantomime, but makes sure nobody misses out on panto-style fun? The method that Nick Lane has perfected over the last four Christmases at the Stephen Joseph Theatre is not the only one, but it certainly works.
First of all take a classic play or novel, preserve the more memorable features of the plot, fill the gaps with absurd twists and quirky humour, get some sort of a contemporary Scarborough plot to run alongside, add some varied and appealing songs by Simon Slater and then find a small cast of energetic and talented actor-musicians.
At the outset four fearsome pirates are yo-ho-hoing their way into an adaptation of Treasure Island when a solemn figure enters down from the back of the auditorium insisting they stop. It is a representative of the estate of Robert Louis Stevenson protesting the performance of such a travesty. Naturally he is coerced into taking part and, at the end, having debuted as Billy Bones, roistered as a two-legged Long John Silver (with a carrot on his shoulder) and capered as a crazily cheeseoholic Ben Gunn, he agrees to the play going ahead.
Such triplings of parts are typical for all but one of the cast of five. Alice Blundell, Niall Ransome, Scarlet Wilderink and Ben Tolley switch costumes, characters, even gender, without missing a beat: among the more eccentric creations being a puppet Captain Smollett and a female Squire Trelawney who fools everyone with a rather fine false moustache.
Only Marcquelle Ward can relax in the security of a single part, if the word “security” can be applied to Jim Hawkins. In the Nick Lane version he and his mother run the struggling Admiral Benbow pub in Scarborough and the recurrent concern of Jim and his comrades late in the play is not so much whether the dastardly Long John Silver will put them to the sword as whether they’ll get back to Scarborough for Christmas.
It’s all as imaginative as it is silly – how, one asks oneself, could R. L. Stevenson have managed without a giant mechanical crab? There are some moments of splendidly low-tech spectacle, notably when supernumerary pirates haul on the ropes to set the sails for the good ship Hispaniola.
Musically the production is terrifically strong. Simon Slater’s melodies are anything but routine and once again the musical ability of young actors on a variety of instruments astonishes – and half the time they are strumming, bowing or blowing while on the move. Director Erin Carter has served as choreographer on the previous Nick Lane epics – and the dance and movement are full of wit and imagination.
Finally, a word for the audience. Many garbed as pirates, the Press Night audience picked up the pantomime routines instantly – a conversational “No, I’m not” produced an instantly voluble response. Perhaps the most treasurable moment of the whole performance came with a small girl in the front row standing up, insistently pointing at a skulking Long John barely a yard away and shouting ever more furious warnings at Jim Hawkins.
Runs until 29th December 2019 |Image: Sam Taylor