Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island’s original gives us a boy’s own story of excitement danger and resolution. Bryony Lavery and Polly Findlay’s Treasure Island however turns out to be something a little bit different in that Jim Hawkins, cabin boy and the book’s narrator has become a girl and so too Dr Livesey and various other crew members of the Hispaniola, bound for treasure island with Long John Silver, Capt Flint his parrot and the rest.
This is a Treasure Island in the spirit of the often rebellious woman-centred Drill Hall pantos Lavery was putting her hand to over twenty five years ago. Finally it seems the National have caught up and for all the young girls in the National’s Christmas and New Year audiences, this Treasure Island will be saying to them: `yes, you too can roam the seven seas. Yes, you too can have adventures. Nothing is beyond you.’ Rites of passage from child to adult are not just the prerogative of one gender.
Indeed, there are so many cross-genders and cross-dressers knocking around in Findlay’s production the term becomes positiviely meaningless. Not that there aren’t plenty of mustachioed male villains roaming around Lizzie Clachan’s amazing set – a semi-circle of whale bones that later become more than slightly sinister triffid-like pulsating plants – as well as a fully-rigged ship.
Findlay treats us to some magical moments especially in Long John Silver’s lesson to Jim about navigation by the stars, triggering a gorgeous star-burst of constellations above us. John Tams’ sea-shanty songs too, create just the right kind of `Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum’ heartiness.
But for all its fights, dastardly pirates and comic interludes, the emphasis of this Treasure Island remains a serious one of learning who your true friends are, of loyalty and the joy of returning home to the loving arms of a grandmother. Patsy Ferran as Jim delivers this with delectable simplicity and truth and has sturdy comic support from Helen Lymbery (Dr Livesey) and Nick Fletcher (Squire Trelawney) whilst Joshua James’ Ben Gunn is a fascinating reminder of Shakespearean influences from The Tempest and even Lear’s `Poor Tom’. Derring-do with heart!
First published in Reviewsgate in Dec 2014