What better way to ease yourself and your family into Christmas than with a welcome dose of merriment and escapism? This adaptation by Kate Ferguson and Susannah Peerce (music and lyrics) certainly ticks all the boxes.
Commissioned by The Bolton Octagon this production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel is packed with original music, lyrics and choreography. As well as this, this adaptation manages to carefully tread the fine line of presenting a traditional story in a refreshing and inclusive way and does so without compromising its literary ethics.
The show starts with an instrumental seafaring shanti, this sets the scene and transports us back to 1762. Very quickly we’re introduced to the key characters of the piece: the drunken Billy Bones, who loses the treasure map that sparks the adventure; Jim Hawkins our frustrated protagonist of the performance; Hawkins’ mother who struggles to make ends meet at the Inn she runs; Squire Trelawney the bumbling expedition leader and the infamous Long John Silver the pirate hell bent on getting his hands on the map and ultimately the treasure it signifies.
Jim Hawkins (Ami Okumaru Jones) and Long John Silver (Jack Lord) are excellent counter points to one another. They have the most lines and stage time. They are both believable and engaging in equal measure. Okumaru Jones’ casting and performance is in keeping with the current zeitgeist – a female protagonist commanding a role traditionally given to males; we’re told her name is Jim. Jim Hawkins, if you blink, you’ll miss it; however, while the brain processes this information the plot races passed you.
Enter Jack Lord’s Long John Silver. Lord provides a solid weathered portrayal of an ageing pirate. He uses his skill and wits to try to stay one step ahead of everyone, this includes those he trusts and those he doesn’t. The cat and mouse game that ensues is well paced and provides ample opportunity for the songs of the piece to progress the plot.
Under Tim Jackson’s direction the remainder of the cast’s key players, Bauckham, Feare, Phoenix and Simon all play multiple parts. Spotting them post costume change is a game you can play should you be fortunate enough to see this production. The costumes change. Accents changes. Everything changes but the quality remains the same, the attention to detail here is impeccable.
The show also has three more secret weapons: the supporting child cast who are professional and deliver their lines (and songs) remarkably; the cast’s proficient use of instruments and the show’s clever humour. The references to ‘cheese’ and ‘treacle’ will leave you in stitches.
At this point, I would love to have laboured the fact that the songs and lyrics really worked but as they were original – I don’t know what they were called. What I can say is that the two that stood out for me were Long John Silver’s ‘Mind your Ps and Qs’ song; and Mrs Hawkins’ ‘Worse Things Happen at Sea’ – these are both catchy and funny.
The set design also deserves a mention – the bronze, rustic, offering cleverly transforms into an Inn, a Bristol port, the Hispaniola ship and the fated Treasure Island itself. In each incarnation the staging feels natural and you believe you’re actually there.
Treasure Island is a feel-good romp for all the family which delivers song, humour and buccaneering adventure for all kids no matter how old you are.★ ★ ★ ★
Treasure Island the Christmas show from Octagon Theatre, Bolton is at Premier Suite, University of Bolton Stadium from 5-28 December 2019.