Review: A Christmas Treasure Island (Hull Truck Theatre)
Debbie Oates' adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic is given a distinctly Christmas twist
A Christmas Treasure Island is an adaptation of an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel, Debbie Oates having transferred the setting of her successful Dukes Playhouse version from Morecambe Bay to Withernsea. The result is inventive and suitably jolly, with the Christmas theme nicely worked in and the boldly energetic Annabel Betts as Jem (for Jemima) Hawkins a feisty contemporary alternative to Jim.
Oates' take on Treasure Island calls to mind another classic story, The Wizard of Oz. Twelve year-old Jemima falls out with her parents over the lack of attention she is receiving (there's a new baby sister just coming home) and the non-appearance of the Christmas tree. When her irritated father throws her cat outside, Jem goes looking for her pet in a developing storm. There being no "twisters" in Withernsea, she is transported into a magical world via the mysterious appearance of her favourite uncle, David, and the discovery of a treasure map in Uncle David's copy of Treasure Island – given him by a pirate.
Young Jem then displays remarkable courage in fitting up a ship for a journey to an island in the frozen north – just where the Hull trawlers used to go – and thwarting the dastardly plans of a gang of pirates who bear an uncanny resemblance to her family. She (and they) return safe, having learned what true treasure is. So was it all a dream? Or a true adventure in a alternative world?
After a rather unfocused opening Mark Babych's production takes off with the "Pirate Song (and Dance)", the first of several rollicking numbers by John Biddle performed with verve by a cast also tasked with providing some of the instrumental accompaniment: accordion, banjo, cello and such like, very country-style.
At times, the production seems torn between comic adventure story and pantomime. The Arctic yeti episode recalls many a pantomime encounter with bear or monster; Jem's exploits sailing the ship single-handed, on the other hand, are adventure comic heroism.
Laurie Jamieson's Scots-accented Long John Silver is most successful in bridging the style gap, with enough menace to offset the jokiness. Nicholas Goode and Jessica Murrain's dopey pirates are just too dopey, but they do sterling work in the ensembles. Louise Shuttleworth ranges far and wide in parts, including Captain Molly as old-style Principal Boy and a rhyming Ben Gunn. Shannon Rewcroft's Parrot's sardonic American-accent asides are the highlight of her three parts. And there is one straight man, Jack Lord, partnering Jem perfectly as an immensely likeable Uncle David.
Production values are excellent, from John Barber's puppets to Ciaran Bagnall's flexible ship-shape designs which rock and roll to exhilarating effect in the many storms. The energy of the production is boosted by a six-strong Young Company Ensemble who are everything from carol singers and pirates to scene shifters.
A Christmas Treasure Island runs at Hull Truck Theatre until 7 January.