Sword fights, pirate shanties, adventures on the high seas and sinister spirits of pirates past are all to be found in the Theatre Royal Haymarket’s new family production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island.
In a new stage adaptation by Ken Ludwig, directed by Sean Holmes, a mysterious chest lies on stage, encasing a very important map that is the catalyst for Stevenson’s watery adventure. When Jim Hawkins, a young boy living at the Admiral Benbow inn, finds himself in possession of the map, his whole life is tipped upside down as he finds himself at the centre of a dangerous journey with more black spots, parlays and “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum”-s than you could shake a wooden leg at.
Ready to set sail in search of the treasure promised by the map, Jim meets the infamous Long John Silver. Played by Keith Allen with a wooden crutch and leather-encased leg pulled along beside him, Silver tells Jim how he knew his late father and would like to help on his voyage as a lowly cook. Taken in by his story, Jim allows Silver to put together the rest of his crew and off they sail in search of the riches.
Once on the high seas, Long John Silver and his pirate crew – or ‘men of good fortune’ as they prefer to be called – plan to mutiny so they can steal the map and claim the treasure as their own. But Jim overhears their rum-fuelled talk and a battle between the two groups commences, taking them from the vast ocean to a jungle-covered island where a mysterious chest lies among the spirits and dangers that lurk there.
In Ludwig’s new version, certain liberties have been taken with the original story and Allen’s Long John Silver takes on an almost fatherly role as he shares stories and banter with the innocent, young Jim, never quite completely falling into the villain role we expect him to, but still with the healthy greed for treasure we expect all good pirates to possess.
Lizzie Clachan’s set and costume design transport the Theatre Royal Haymarket into another world altogether. With sails and ropes, the stage becomes a ship that the actors can climb and sword fight from aerial positions. Video projections take the action from the sinister, green-lit jungle to a view through a porthole with light projections of seagulls flitting over the sails evoking the open seas.
With sword fighting, comedy and a vast range of pirate characters from the frightening and dark – such as Blind Pew, who steals scenes as the sinister sightless villain – to the more camp and amusing, Treasure Island is more substantial family entertainment for the pantomime season.