The New Vic Theatre’s Christmas production (it’s not a panto) (oh no it’s not) is a new adaptation of the famous RL Stevenson book Treasure Island.
The book created much of the modern mythology of pirates (maps, Xs marking spots, pieces of eight and wooden legs) and all the trademark piratical images are seen on stage.
The story launches with an old sailor coming to lodge at the Admiral Benbow Inn. Jim Hawkins is now Gem (Nisa Cole) and the inn, as established by the opening song, is a place where little goes on. The inn is frequented by locals, as well as the local gentry, Squire Trelawny (Andy Burse) and Dr Livesey (Ellen Chivers).
After visits from mysterious strangers, the sailor drops down dead, having walked his last plank, and Gem finds the treasure map. Trelawny decides to charter a boat, which he crews with various dubious characters including Long John Silver (Tom Peters) and Darby Mcgraw, a rum woman pirate (Lauryn Redding). They are accompanied by Smollett (Richard Costello). They set sail on the Hispaniola, for the distant and eponymous island.
Gem, who suspects the crew are bad ‘uns, goes ashore and meets Ben Gunn, (William Pennington) who tells him he was marooned there but knows where the treasure is. The baddies go off and the goodies gather in the stockade where, after refusing Silver’s offer of a truce, a gun battle ensues. Gem scarpers and captures the ship, only crewed by a wounded Israel Hands, whom she shoots, before returning to the stockade to be greeted by Silver.
Looking for the treasure, they come across a skeleton then realise the treasure has gone, before a final battle leaves Silver and the goodies with the money.
Well, that’s what I think happened.
This year’s production is different to those of previous years in that there is more music and less plot; towards the end, it all gets a little confusing. I’m not sure whose side Smollett was even on. Then again, JK Rowling has made millions not bothering that the end of her books are incoherent, so who’s going to argue?
By more music, I mean that there are more songs and more people performing, and to a higher standard, so much so that the musicians have their own little deck and are not in a corner of the stage (if a corner is possible in the round).
We’ve got used to seeing some of the same faces at Christmas shows but this year they’re all new; possibly this is because of the greater musical demands. Leon Scott (Israel Hands) can clearly play drums properly, while Richard Costello delivers some nifty electric guitar. (I Googled him: he’s a professional guitar player, got an HGV licence, spent seven years as a firefighter and has a crane operator’s licence — leave some work for the rest of us, mate). (Sorry: shipmate). Lauryn Redding can play banjo, banjolele, bass guitar, clarinet, double bass, drums, guitar, piano, saxophone and ukulele.
All this means is that the play is easier for the kids — lots of songs, more sword-fighting and some guns, with less dull bits where boring adults are just speaking some words — and it’s more entertaining; so what if you’re not exactly sure who is who and what’s exactly going on? Pantos are not noted for complex plots and literary scripts.
It’s also more of an ensemble piece than in previous years, and the greater emphasis on song means there’s less scope for actors to stand out. Nisa Cole is good as Gem Hawkins and Tom Peters ditto as Long John Silver. We also liked Leon Scott, admittedly mainly because he can play drums and had nice hair.
I asked the kids which the bit they liked best and they said: “All of it,” which is about the benchmark a kids’ Christmas production should aim to reach.
Performances run until 27th January, 7.30pm with matinees at 2.15pm on selected dates.
For a full schedule of performance dates and times, visit newvictheatre.org.uk
(Photos: Andrew Billington).