Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson adapted by Bryony Lavery – National Theatre (Olivier)
The excitement still builds on a Thursday night, when many of us sit down to watch theatre as though it was analogue television in the four channel era. Admittedly, the National Theatre’s shows are available for a week on Youtube, being there at 7pm seems the right thing to do. This week’s offering is from six years ago, an adaptation of Treasure Island by Bryony Lavery. The shortcomings of filmed theatre are more obvious when it involves shows staged in the cavernous Olivier Theatre, with a stage too large to fit on screen in its entirety, even in long shot. However, Lizzie Clachan’s atmospheric set makes quite an impression, making full use of the theatres extensive machinery to revolve, raise and lower vast sections of stage as the action moves from inn to dock to ship to island to tunnels. The Olivier is very well suited to shadowy corners where mad pirates and their parrots might lurk, and the staging has suitably epic qualities.
The highlights of the evening come from the lead performers. Patsy Ferran as narrator and protagonist Jim Hawkins is a treat. She is also a girl, a change from the novel that the script plays with throughout, making a light-hearted critique of the times by continually confusing the other characters. Arthur Darvill’s Long John Silver is less salty and more human than the traditional perception of the character, and therefore more sinister in his manoeuvrings. Neither plays their part for comic effect, which is the prevailing tone for the rest of the show. While there is certainly room for comedy, Treasure Island is memorable for younger readers because of its enthralling drama and life-and-death dilemmas. Too much of this has been jettisoned in exchange for a succession of sailors intended to be funny because of their single character trait – the crazy one, the hungry one, the dull one and so on. This is a mistake because the new material is not up to the standard of the writing it replaces or necessary to the story, meaning that momentum is lost in the later stages. However, this is still a show that will have left a big impression on anyone lucky enough to see it at the right age – perhaps in front of their television in a quarantined front room.