[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/4656?ns=guardian&pageName=Treasure+Island+%2F+A+Christmas+Carol+%7C+Theatre+review%3AArticle%3A1314063&ch=Stage&c3=Obs&c4=Theatre%2CStage%2CCulture+section%2CCharles+Dickens+%28Author%29&c6=Clare+Brennan&c7=09-Dec-06&c8=1314063&c9=Article&c10=Feature%2CReview&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2FTheatre[/img]Stephen Joseph theatre, Scarborough, and on tour
Gripping as a pirate's hook and timber-shiveringly scary, Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 tale of black hearts and buried gold is not for the lily-livered. Originally written as a serial for a children's magazine, it ships all the classic cargo of a buccaneering adventure – hidden treasure, a map, a desert island, a castaway. So far, so all-round family fun. However, the author of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde ballasts this swashbuckling high-sea romp with a weight of wickedness that makes it – to anyone wishing to stay faithful to the original – a less than obvious choice for a festive Christmas show.
Andrew Pollard's adaptation, though, turns out to be a stormer. Six performers, a four-poster bed and a dead man's chest create the inn, the ship, the island and all the characters of the story with a dark intensity that would be too frightening to bear if it were not so declaredly theatrical – the utterly terrifying blind Pew is assembled in full view of the audience from a knotted rope, a rake, a saw, hat and coat; Jenni Molloy simultaneously plays on-stage roles and double-bass jazz accompaniment. This is a barnacle-blisteringly good production.
Chris Monks's decision to make Scrooge a Yorkshireman for his otherwise back-to-the-story adaptation of A Christmas Carol was a cracker. It gave Kraig Thormber, as the "Bah, humbug!" Christmas-hater, a new starting point for the character. The result is a very human Scrooge: credibly cold and crabby at the beginning, reborn into unsentimental sentiment at the end.
And so it is with all the characters in this deceptively simple seeming production: they are distinct, well formed and unhistrionic. The half dozen adult professional actors are joined, on alternate nights, by one of two teams of eight local schoolchildren; all are stunningly costumed in 1880s style, dance period dances, sing period carols. They charmingly evoke Dickens's time past and restate his message to time present: the gold standard is no measure of human happiness.
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Guardian: Treasure Island / A Christmas Carol | Theatre review
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