THE decision to opt for a play instead of a pantomime this year has brought one of the very best things I have ever seen to the Shaftesbury Arts Centre stage.
Director Rosie King chose American playwright Ken Ludwig’s multi-layered, literate and darky exciting version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, often performed as a two dimensional pantomime romp.
A huge cast and backstage crew work hard to make the most of the action-packed story, and the result delighted the packed opening night audience, whose ages ranged from around ten to 80. Even the youngest were thrilled by the show, which used not only the stage but the whole auditorium, enhanced by atmospheric lighting and subtle sound effects. The music is led by Cliff Skey, as the Hispaniola’s Shanty Man.
Ludwig sticks closely to the original, but with clever embellishments that flesh out the characters, calling for powerful acting from those in the leading roles. Beth Gray is a spirited and vulnerable Jack Hawkins, and Bryan Farell gives the performance of his life as Long John Silver, bringing brains, guile and charisma to the book’s arch anti-hero.
Fred Wopat delivers a double whammy as Blind Pew and Israel Hands, and Carl Davies is a truly menacing Billy Bones. The director has worked with everyone in the 50-plus cast to create characterisation, and the costumes, designed by Phil Elsworth and made by a team of more than 20, add to the tense authenticity.
This is a terrific ensemble piece, and everyone deserves praise. Outstanding among the minor roles are Rick Longfoot as Squire Trelawney, Susan Grant as Ben Gunn and Phil Elsworth as Black Dog.
Treasure Island is on at Shaftesbury Arts Centre until Saturday 27th and from 31st January to 3rd February, nightly at 7.30 with 2.30 Saturday matinees. It’s huge fun, impressively performed and incisively directed.