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10 reasons to watch the NT’s Treasure Island

10 reasons to watch the NT’s Treasure Island

10 reasons to watch the NT’s Treasure Island cover photo on Stagedoor
Who hasn’t longed to run away with pirates at some point in their life?

The lure and the freedom of the open seas may be stronger than ever at this particular point in lock down.

The NT’s production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure story premiered in the Olivier Theatre in December 2014 in a new version by Bryony Lavery with ace director Polly Findlay at the helm of the ship. The age advisory was 10 and over but I reckon in the comfort of your own home with hugs on hand you could happily lower that.

RSL may have declared about his novel, “it was to be a story for boys; no need for psychology or fine writing. Women were excluded,” but in Lavery’s expert hands this is very much a girl’s own adventure too. It has got an androgynous Jim Hawkins who when asked by one of the pirates “Be you boy or be you girl?” replies: “that be my business.”

Photos by Johan Persson

It will be the excuse you’ve been needing to have a glass of rum. You may want to have some cheese handy too. Look out for Joshua James’ turn as Ben Gunn who has more than a touch of Poor Tom from King Lear about him.

Jim is played by the supremely watchable Patsy Ferran. It was only Ferran’s third role after her debut as the servant Edith in Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud, where she almost stole the show from under Dame Angela Lansbury’s nose. She was fab too as Anna In James Graham’s the Angry Brigade. She went on to win an Olivier for her shimmering, simmering performance as Alma in Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke directed by Rebecca Frecknall at the Almeida and in the West End. Ferran was making her Broadway debut as Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which was in previews at the Booth theatre when New York’s theatres were shut-down in March. So sadly, the production never reached its April press night.

Treasure Island has an excellent animatronic parrot. Watch those feathers fly.

Lizzie Clachan’s design is a marvel. You often feel that designers are trying to fill the cavernous Olivier stage and are a bit scared of the technologies available, but Clachan makes you feel she is enjoying playing with the space and hasn’t held back on using every tool available in the tool-box. Here’s Susannah Clapp writing about it: “Lizzie Clachan's design is a drama of its own. Massive curved ribs enclose the action: we're looking at a ship but also at the inside of someone's body; into their heart, you feel. As the mighty deck is winched up, a beehive of cabins appear beneath; later the same space becomes a huge dripping cathedral of underground caves.”

Arthur Darvill, back in 2014 still pretty fresh from playing Dr Who companion Rory Williams is interesting casting as Long John Silver . He’s no Jack Sparrow or Captain Hook, or the leering eye-rolling Silver we know from the panto versions. He may not suit those who want a villain to boo, but there is something more interesting here in his silky demeanour and quiet but insidious seductive charm. It plays well to that life lesson almost every child will recognise: the charming, glamorous adult who ultimately betrays you and lets you down.

Photo by Johan Persson

Lavery’s version is less about swashbuckle and cutlasses than it is about the unconscious and hidden desires. It is a coming of age story about innocence lost and maturity won. It has a good line on avarice too.

There is a gorgeous scene, which I hope will work when streamed, that captures the immensity of sea and sky and the constellations by which sailors navigate their way.

The entire family can spend the hours before and after practising talking like a pirate. Shiver my timbers.

You can watch Treasure Island in full tomorrow night (Thursday 16 April) at 7pm here.

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Written by

Lyn Gardner

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