"Festive fun but not pantomime"
by Arthur Duncan for remotegoat on 04/12/16

An ensemble of final-year students on Bristol Old Vic Theatre School acting courses, give patrons lots of fun with Philip Monks’s ‘jolly-rogerised’ version of this hugely popular classic adventure story. Nothing in it will alarm parents or provoke awkward questions from the children, beyond ‘Why are the bad men mostly women?’ Instead, everyone will find mystification and amusing departures from the original book, that are sure to delight children new to this seafaring yarn and rejuvenate ‘oldies’ who’ve been ashore too long.

The audience at the second night performance in The Redgrave Theatre in Clifton, was a healthy mix of ages and genders, the women and girls outnumbering male patrons, all eager to enjoy this ‘story for boys’ as the late Victorian author Robert Louis Stevenson intended his ‘Treasure Island’ to engage.

Invoking the threatening air of danger with which Robert Louis laced the opening chapter of his novel, the Director of this successful stage production, Jenny Stephens, sets the tone perfectly with her first scene, a sort of precursor to tensions that follow. The set resembles the stockade on the island which readers of the story will remember becomes the defensive bastion of the good guys against Long John Silver’s dastardly crew.

Impressively designed by Dawn Allsopp, (following her splendid, simple set for “Our Country’s Good,” on this stage recently) we find across the back of the stage, a wooden wall of tall planks, their tops broken off roughly, making an irregular skyline, enhanced by a subtly changing lighting scheme designed by Joe Stathers. The structure having several ingenious doors, also represents a tropical forest and the inside of the Admiral Benbow Inn, where the story begins and returns to, at its conclusion.

Meeting the many characters - ‘tho’ not so many as in the book – and assimilating their roles keeps the audience mentally alert in Part One, during which these young actors reveal who can sing nicely and who evokes sympathy and who doesn’t and who is funny. One is even determined to make a fool of herself to ensure our evening includes several good ‘corny’ laughs. Later, the actors treat us to music and some talented acrobatic ‘tumbling.’ Naming individuals is hardly fair among this ensemble, all working together to complete the whole entertainment, so it suffices to say that none of these performers is less than excellent in their roles.

However, there could be a bit more zest in certain parts of the first half and to prove it, there is a lot more 'sparkiness' in the second. 

In Part Two, the contributions from Movement Director, Clare Fox, and Musical Director, John Telfer, add further impact to the whole show, by the increasing ambition of the choreography and chorale, right up to the joyous conclusion. The ending imparts a tropical warmth into the chilly evenings of this festive season. It is so harmonious that if it offends the novelist’s moral sensitivity, RLS, will turn in his grave until the last terrific performance on Sunday 18th, shouting “Only the Good should end happily!” But Philip Monks invites us to endorse the forgiveness with which he has adapted Stevenson’s more virtuous characters.

Bristol was historically a sea-faring port and now is a world-renowned centre of culture and drama performances. How fitting, if you take the present tide to set your festive sails for a two-hours voyage of adventure which your family will treasure long into the New Year. 

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