Treasure Island Is A Visual Feast

By Stuart Black Last edited 36 months ago
Treasure Island Is A Visual Feast ★★★★☆ 4

TREASURE ISLAND by Stevenson,             , Writer – Robert Louis Stevenson, Director – Polly Findlay, Designer – Lizzie Clachan, Lighting – Bruno Poet, Movement – Carolina Valdes, The National Theatre, 2014, Credit: Johan Persson/
Photo by Johan Persson.

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Magic tricks, swashbuckling action and truly spectacular sets are the main draws in the National Theatre’s new staging of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. This is high-end family fare that just about lives up to the standards the National has set itself over the years for pulling off crowd-pleasing Christmas blockbusters — their previous hits including War Horse and His Dark Materials.

Polly Findlay directs from a (slightly) highfalutin' adaptation by Bryony Lavery with the story reconfigured to include more feisty female roles than in the original boy’s own adventure. Patsy Ferran plays earnest cabin girl Jim, with jokey asides made to that gender confusion throughout, who comes of age as the action spreads from the West Country to the high seas and onto the eponymous atoll.

The trigger is Billy Bones, who walks into grandma's tavern with voices in his head and secrets in his sea chest. And though his bushy beard and tattoos make him resemble another Hoxton hipster he turns out to be a proper pirate who draws to the inn the ever-more dastardly assailants: Black Dog, Blind Pew and Long John Silver.

The latter is of course the one everyone’s waiting for and it’s a bit of a you-what moment when dopey old Rory from Doctor Who turns up. Kids might be familiar with his face — and it has to be said that Arthur Darvill is a decent actor — but he’s far too clean-cut to play the iconic arch-buccaneer. It also takes a lot of chutzpah to command the Olivier stage and Darvill doesn’t quite have the requisite eccentricity. He’s constantly upstaged — as is everyone in fact — by the very nicely designed animatronic parrot that sits perched on his shoulder.

And it’s the design that's the chief pleasure here, with a revolving stage and hydraulic equipment used to maximum effect. Designer Lizzie Clachan has created something special, managing to conjure up variously: the innards of a pirate galleon, a bubbling bog and a snowy inn on a cliff-top, all set against a starry night sky. It’s dizzyingly complex and don’t be surprised if some of it doesn’t work (there was a break on our viewing to deal with technical problems — though the stage manager did get a cheer all the same). Clachan's work along with tricks by illusionist Chris Fisher are the reasons to see this; younger family members especially will be delighted.

Treasure Island runs at the National Theatre until 8 April 2015. Tickets cost £15-£50. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 20 December 2014