National Theatre Live
Treasure Island is one of those stories I know without knowing. Despite being an ardent bookworm as a child, I never read past the first couple of chapters of Robert Louis Stevenson’s seminal text. I’ve never watched a film version all the way through either. I’m not sure why; maybe I just didn’t think that seafaring adventures were for me. And yet, of course, I know the characters, the plot, the tropes – because every pirate cliché emanates from this book.
So now’s the time for me to see it through, via the National Theatre’s free YouTube screening, available until next week. I settle on the sofa next to my husband, who hands me a glass of wine. So I’m relatively happy, although I can’t refrain from grumbling, ‘It’s not the same as actually being out.‘ It’s not, obviously. But, for now, it’s what we have.
This is a sprightly production, and a lot of fun to watch. Bryony Lavery’s script is fleet of foot, and Polly Findlay’s direction lively and light, although there’s more than a hint of darkness here.
Patsy Ferran is a female Jim – a Jemima – whose encounter with Bill Bones (Aidan Kelly) at her grandma’s inn leads her into piratic escapades. Before long, she’s left granny far behind, and is employed as a cabin-girl on the Hispaniola, learning to read the stars while befriending the dark-hearted Long John Silver (Arthur Darvill), as they sail forth in search of Captain Flint’s buried treasure. Betrayal and misadventure follow, of course, as do enlightenment and redemption. It’s never less than an exciting ride.
Ferran’s is a beguiling performance; indeed, the whole production charms. Joshua James’ Benn Gunn is bewitching, his conversations with himself simultaneously enervating and captivating; it’s a clever portrayal.The swordplay sequences, choreographed by Bret Yount, are bold and athletic. And Lizzie Clachan’s design shows us the boat as a living, breathing organism, exposing the metaphor of the island’s tunnels as Jim’s inner self, her conscience and her soul.
Whether Treasure Island is an old favourite or unexplored territory, this is certainly a piece of theatre that everyone can enjoy.