Treasure Island – The Pirate Panto, Studio Theatre, Salisbury.

ALMOST all the tickets for Salisbury Studio Theatre’s Christmas show at their Ashley Road HQ were sold out before the curtain rose on the opening night, such is the company’s reputation for excellence and versatility.

It’s to their credit that they give newcomers a chance to show their skills, and several of them are on show in Treasure Island, a story often adapted for pantomime. It has all the right elements – romance, adventure, songs, comedy and a very strong story. Here Ian Flindell, who first recognised the Stevenson story’s potential 25 years ago, not only directed  and played percussion, but wrote the script too, changing some of the characters and adding new ones.

A triumphant addition is Lorna Matthews-Keele’s talking parrot, resplendent in colourful feathers and glitter and electrifying the stage with her every squawk and flutter. What is usually a slightly floppy soft toy on the shoulder of Long John Silver becomes a narrator of wit and wisdom.

Paul Chalmers adds the third leading role in less than three months as the lusty baddy with the gammy leg – though which one was (hilariously) never quite certain. He is joined by David Rhodes – also from Murder in the Cathedral and Comedy of Errors in recent weeks – as the Scottish pirate, and Amy Godfrey-Arkle and Philippa Crundwell as the brothers Bill, the comedy heart of the show.

Kris Hamilton returns as the dame, coyly flirting with Dr Dimworthy (Alistair Faulkner). Sarah Kirkpatrick was a marvellously static Billy Bones, and Jo Flindell mastered multiple personality disorder as the marooned Belinda Gunn. Caroline Butcher and Jill Cowling provided the love interest as Jim (lad) and Lovely Nancy.

The band – John Whipple, Andrew Harrison King and the ubiquitous Mr Flindell – provided lots of tuneful, rhythmic shanties for the audience to join in and sing.

And of course it all turns out right in the end, in time for the traditional wedding walkdown.

I often say that pantomime is important as the first time children encounter live entertainment, and the tiny toddler behind me was transfixed, understanding the need for participation from the start to the finish.


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