Writer: Debbie Oates
Director: Joe Sumsion
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
This summer marks the 30th anniversary of The Dukes’ walkabout theatre productions in Williamson Park; which, in recent years, have transported audiences back to Victorian England in Oliver Twist and delved to the heart of Middle Earth in The Hobbit. This year, The Dukes restages Debbie Oates’ 2012 indoor production of Treasure Island and the result is another accomplished family show making full use of the spectacular setting.
All the classic elements of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel are present; swashbuckling pirates, dangerous voyages across the seas, a treasure map marked with an ‘X’. Oates retains the sense of adventure of the novel, however re-tells the tale with a contemporary twist.
Jem Hawkins is a young girl, enduring the taunts of bullies and feeling neglected at home after the birth of her baby sister. while sorting through the belongings of her Uncle David she comes upon an old copy of Treasure Island, inscribed with a sinister warning from ‘Billy Bones’ and with a treasure map concealed in its pages. Jem and David set off on a quest for the treasure and encounter talking parrots and treacherous pirates, including the legendary Long John Silver.
This present day opening is unexpected and largely unnecessary given the strength of the source material and this, coupled with a lot of backstory and information to absorb, means the show gets off to a slightly slow start. The production moves up a gear once Jem sets sail on the Hispaniola and director Joe Sumsion and designer Barney George use a vast set, physical theatre and puppetry to evoke the feeling of journeying across the rough seas, utilising the natural features of the park.
The cast of seven give solid performances, with Natasha Davidson immediately winning over the audience as Jem and Gareth Cassidy receiving his own well deserved round of applause for a superbly executed solo showcase that recaps a previous journey to entertaining effect. The cast are ably supported by performers from the Dukes Young Company as both pirates and puppeteers.
A number of original songs, composed by Carol Donaldson, are featured throughout yet are of varying quality. Some songs are twee and overly sentimental, with vocals that require more precision and power, however the pirate sea-shanty is catchy with witty lyrics.
Treasure Island also lacks one strong villain, consequently there is never a real sense of peril and the pace sometimes sags. The vast experience of former artistic director Joe Sumsion shows however, with clever flourishes such as a bullet ricocheting from pirate to pirate much to the audiences delight. These touches of creativity and wit help keep the audience engaged and, most importantly, children were clearly entertained throughout, with gasps of joy when the treasure is revealed.
Treasure Island is a fun and imaginative production and whether it be walking through woodland decorated with lanterns or having a talking parrot come to rest on your shoulder, the atmosphere remains unrivalled. The Dukes park shows provide a magical experience for all of the family and in this anniversary year one hopes they continue to thrill and enchant both adults and children alike for a long time to come.
Runs until 12 August 2017 | Image: Contributed