Review: Treasure Island (St Paul's Church)
Robert Louis Stevenson's novel is brought to life in the grounds of The Actors' Church
Following a production of Much Ado About Nothing earlier this summer, the wonderful grounds of The Actors' Church have been transformed into the Seven Seas to tell Robert Louis Stevenson's story of mutiny aboard the Hispaniola. As we enter the church, we are sorted into two groups: I'm a privateer, so don't get a fashionable bandanna to attach to myself as bestowed on the pirates. The two sides at the ready, the mood is set for what is a playful couple of hours.
Directed by Daniel Winder, the play is immersive, but if the first scene is anything to go by that just means "things will happen behind you". The story begins inside the church where skew-whiff West Country accents coupled with a barrage of actors entering from the back of the room and running through the aisles causing confusion among the audience. I clocked three kids asking their parents: "What is going on?" But this settles down as we move outside to the courtyard.
As Squire Trelawney convinces Mrs Hawkins to let her son Jim join him on a voyage for treasure - but only if chaperoned by Mrs Livesey - we follow the newly formed crew on board the ship. Pirates seated on the left, privateers to the right, our benches make up the decks of the ship with the forecastle and poop decks either side. A mast complete with crow's nest is placed in the middle. It's a fun set, and this is where you begin to feel part of the piece. Some audience members are given prop guns and swords for the evening; Jim scrubs the decks (the feet of unsuspecting privateers); during a storm Isabella grabs onto me for dear life. The whole thing is cute, and the smiles on the faces of older members of the audience are as wide as they are on the kids.
Throughout the performance, we are split into our groups and led down different paths. While the Pirates are taken to the island, we're left to look after the ship. Action occasionally bleeds between the scenes, but during the second act, I spent a lot of time wondering if the Pirates were getting the finer bottles of rum.
Winder makes the decision to swap Stevenson's male Dr Livesey to Mrs Livesey, which works well until the very end of the play, when she gets married off to Squire Trelawney for absolutely no reason whatsoever. The script worked just fine without this unnecessary romantic plot line.
The cast is full of solid performances; Dafydd Gwyn Howells plays a classic, cocky Long John Silver; Anne-Marie Piazza is ferocious as Isabella Hands; Doninic Garfield is hilarious as Jack Sparrow-esque Black Dog. It's a charming production with dark turns that keeps everyone enthralled - perfect for a summer holiday jaunt.
Treasure Island runs at St Paul's Church until 28 August.