I’d read mixed reviews about the National Theatre’s new adaptation of Treasure Island, so when I got the chance to go and see it I was slightly apprehensive. However, I needn’t have worried. Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale has been ably adapted by Bryony Lavery into a compelling play, directed by Polly Findlay, that had me gripped and amazed throughout.
The story tells of Jim Hawkins (a boy in the original, a girl in this version, superbly played by a standout Patsy Ferran), who lives with her grandmother in an inn by the sea and gets mixed up with a bunch of pirates, eventually embarking on a search for treasure, the clue to which lies in the map left at their inn by one of the pirates. With Squire Trelawney (Nick Fletcher), Dr Livesey (Helena Lymbery) and a motley crew, Jim heads off on an adventure, not knowing that the wicked Long John Silver (Arthur Darvill) is lurking on board, waiting for his chance to pounce.
I found the story to be as exciting as the original tale, with a great deal of tension and some brilliant characters, including Jim, Silver, the assorted pirates and Ben Gunn (Joshua James), the former cabin boy left behind on the island. My favourite was Grey (Tim Samuels), a dour presence with a deadpan manner who is frequently forgotten by the rest of the crew. If I have one criticism, it is that Darvill’s Silver wasn’t quite frightening enough. This does not mean that his performance was bad – I found him convincing in the role – but I just didn’t find him particularly scary. In fairness though, it is a children’s show!
The real star of the show, however, is the set – the play is worth seeing for this alone. The Olivier’s famous revolving stage is used to its utmost, and the space becomes, in turn, the inn, the ship, and the murky, smoky island itself. I also loved the animatronic parrot, who, despite not being real, was one of my favourite characters.
A brilliantly entertaining adaptation for kids and big kids alike, this is a hugely recommended piece of theatre.