Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island

16/04/20

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.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

10/04/18

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

I’ll admit it: I’ve a soft spot for Victorian potboilers, the more sensational and melodramatic the better. And Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1884 novella – about a doctor experimenting with a serum that transforms him into another man, thus allowing him to indulge in  vices without fear of tarnishing his reputation – ticks all those boxes, whilst also managing to be a deliciously clever treatise on the duality of human nature, our public and our private selves.

So I’m excited to see this stage version, adapted by David Edgar and starring Phil Daniels in not one, but both of the eponymous roles. I like this single casting, by the way – it’s much more expressive of the story’s heart than a double act could ever be. And Daniels performs the role with aplomb, at first clearly delineating between the gentlemanly Jekyll and the seamy Hyde, before slowly merging the two together as the lines between them blur.

This production, directed by Kate Saxon, has an old-fashioned, naturalistic charm: it’s very wordy, with characters expounding theories in long, uninterrupted speeches – much like the source material, I suppose. But it works. What they’re saying is fascinating, and I’m more than happy to listen hard and concentrate when I’m in the theatre, especially if the story is this exciting, with murder and mayhem at every turn (although this is made considerably more difficult by the family sitting in front of us, who keep getting up to go the toilet, and whose mobile phone rings during the first transformation scene).

The set is a triumph – a two-storey feat of ingenuity, allowing three completely different rooms to be depicted with a simple slide and turn of scenery, as well as a convincing outside street. Rosie Abraham’s singing over the transitions is haunting and evocative, reinforcing the unsettling atmosphere.

The supporting cast are all very good – Polly Frame as Jekyll’s sister, Katherine, and Grace Hogg-Robinson as Annie are especially affecting – but this is Daniels’ play, and he owns the stage. Of course he does; he’s Phil Daniels; we know he’s got talent. I’m extra glad he’s so good in Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde because it means I can proudly show off to my friends, “I worked with him, you know” (okay, so it was way back in 1987, when I was fifteen, and I had a very small part in Screen Two’s Will You Love Me Tomorrow, and I had precisely zero scenes with him, but still…).

Check this out! It’s exactly as chilling and unnerving as it should be.

4 stars

Susan Singfield