Touring – reviewed at Prescot Woodland Theatre
It is always a pleasure to get back to what is now known as Prescot Woodland Theatre, in church grounds where local success story MATE Productions stages its annual ensemble show. For the last two years it has been Shakespeare, so 2018’s adaptation of Treasure Island is something a bit different, but equally as at home in the setting. It will now tour before heading up to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Writer Phil Willmot and director Gaynor La Rocca’s take on Robert Louis Stephenson’s classic pirate tale brings a fresh, fun perspective to proceedings, creating more substantial female roles to balance out the cast – Squire John Trelawney becomes Lady Jacqueline (Cassie Richardson), the ship’s medic is Dr Lucinda Livesey (Julie Ashurst), and Shashka Dmitri (Holly Blue) is one of the most fearsome pirates as well as several expanded supporting roles.
The script draws on Mersey’s maritime history to give things a regional twist, from a Scouse-as-you-like Billy Bones (Tom Large) to the threats to hang mutineers at Bootle docks. Clay Travis is perfectly cast as naïve cabin boy Jim Hawkins, and Francesco La Rocca has a Jack Sparrow-ish charm that belies the misdeeds of head pirate Long John Silver. Threatening to steal the show altogether, however, is the revelatory Kristian Walsh as Ben Gunn, who has descended into madness all alone on Treasure Island and developed an unhealthy obsession with cheese.
The comic relief provided by Ben Gunn and his interplay with Jim (some seeming to be ad-libbed) is a real highlight of the show, not to mention a wonderfully bizarre fantasy sequence that almost shouldn’t work – but definitely does.
MATE’s costume work from designer and maker Jane Allen is always of a high standard, and for Treasure Island is described as having a ‘Steampunk twist’. From stylish frock coats to dreadlocked wigs, making Long John Silver’s peg leg an armour-plated bionic limb and giving Israel Hands an intricate, metallic Phantom-style mask, the results are highly detailed and evocative.
The multi-level wooden set, which serves as the Admiral Benbow pub before being transformed into the Hispanola, ensures there is plenty for the audience to see from all angles. Most of the scenes involve the entire (sizeable) ensemble, with details to catch across the foreground and background alike.
There is original music from performer and MD Taran Harris, providing a folky and at times suitably menacing soundtrack to the action, as well as rousing shanties for the whole cast. The elaborate fight scenes are superbly choreographed and there is a high energy to the production throughout.
A lively, funny show full of surprises, it is, to use the cliché, fun for all the family (and I should know, as my companions for this review were three and 83 and everyone loved it). It could be a bit violent and loud in parts for younger children, but on the day we saw the show many kids came in pirate costumes and loved the interaction with the characters, which was a great touch.
Treasure Island tours venues including Sudley House Gardens, the Anglican Cathedral and Ness Gardens throughout June and July before heading up to Edinburgh in August – check out MATE’s website for more information.
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