This third offering – and third call to support theatres during their current closure – from the National Theatre is an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure story. It makes sense to show the venue’s admirable variety by providing a show for the whole family, and this effort from director Polly Findlay is entertaining and enjoyable.
The script from Bryony Lavery excels with plot and deals expertly with some convoluted language that she spices up. Snatches of humour work well and “keeping nothing back” means some delightfully gory details! From injuries, and a massive syringe, to nightmarish touches, superstition and the supernatural are effectively included.
Lavery and Findlay aren’t afraid to ham things up – there’s a lot of shouting and plenty of fight scenes. We’re dealing with a “hot headed and exclamatory” crowd, after all, and a world that “crawls with large-eared villains”! A nice twist comes with Jim becoming Jemima Hawkins and in the role Patsy Ferran makes an engaging narrator, with a lot of energy to her exposition, as well as an impressive head for heights.
Jim is joined by the “blabber-mouthed” Squire Trelawney and Dr Livesey (roles Nick Fletcher and Alexandra Maher acquit themselves well with) along with a host of colourful characters. Including, of course, Long John Silver, which Arthur Darvill makes a fantastic part. At first “hardly frightening at all”, Darvill builds his character’s charisma and then menace with firm skill.
Treasure Island does lose pace. Maybe things get too silly, or Jim too gullible and fickle? The moral dilemma Jim is faced with is hard to care about, and poorly set up, which you could view as a serious flaw. Meanwhile, his counterpart as a cabin boy, Ben Gunn, proves a tiresome role for Joshua James. Attempts at serious moments aren’t convincing or sustained.
The show’s success lies in the strong staging by Findlay. The Olivier auditorium is used to good effect – if you’re seeing it on film for the first time it surely makes you want to go for real! There’s strong work from Bruno Poet as lighting designer – the constellations in the theatre are magical. Lizzie Clachan’s set well deserves the applause it receives. And, along with the expected shanties, Dan Jones’ fine score provides the final atmospheric touch for a suitably escapist show.
Available until Wednesday 22 April 2020
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Photos by Johan Persson