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Andrew Liddle
Features Writer
3:12 AM 11th December 2019

Sail Away To Treasure Island From Scarborough

‘Aaaarrrrghhh, Jim, lad, it’s Treasure Island!’

But not like one you’ve ever seen before. Long John Silver normally has a parrot on his shoulder, right? Well not in Nick Lane’s inventive adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic. This one has, er, a carrot, yes a juicy red carrot parroting slogans about the efficacy of fruit and veg. Surreal? No, it’s just the wacky world of panto – even if the SJT are chary about calling their Christmas shows pantos.

The most they will admit to is ‘pantoesque’, but this one is full on with all the panto ingredients. And to see bright-eyed children as young as four or five totally enraptured and maintaining a dialogue with the actors was really a welcome part of the entertainment and brought forth some of the biggest, most spontaneous and affectionate bursts of audience laughter. This, of course, is what you can get from the intimacy of theatre-in-the-round.

Once again, then, the SJT have struck gold, a bullion-load of ingots, doubloons, coins and bars of the shiny stuff, in fact, with this rollicking redaction of a tale of adventure, of derring-do, of piratical skulduggery and ultimately of the triumph of good over bad. The rich gallery of characters, Jim Hawkins, Squire Trelawney, Long John Silver, Blind Pew, Billy Bones, Ben Gunn et al are all brought to vivid caricature by a hugely talented ensemble of actor-musicians, Alice Blundell, Niall Ransome, Ben Tolley and Scarlet Wilderink. Marcquelle Ward, who plays our young hero, Jim, is spared musical duties since he is also our narrator, guiding us on a journey from the Admiral Benbow (in Scarborough) across the high seas aboard the Hispaniola to the island where X marks the spot that Captain Flint had hidden the treasure.

For good measure in this madcap production which relocates the story to the Christmas season, Captain Smollet is a gloriously comic marionette whose strings are pulled by whoever is close to hand. ‘Susan’, a surprise mangling and fangling invention, takes us into the weird world of sci-fi. And somewhere up above a giant unseen bird will come on a bombing raid.

}The music by Simon Slater is one of the additional treasures, providing as it does some really catchy tunes for set pieces and, incidentally, as background, seeming to combine musket whiff with the redolence of tobacco, ozone and tar. Heady stuff. The combination of instruments, piano accordion, violin, banjo and flute, creates a sort of broody middle-European sea shanty-sound that is particularly appealing and appropriate.

Helen Coyston’s design makes optimum use of the space and, bearing in mind that ships are long and narrow not circular, somehow astonishingly contrives an optical illusion that we are aboard a rocking and rolling three-master, clinging to its rigging, looking to take shelter below decks where members of the cast disappear down trapdoors. Director and choreographer Erin Carter deserves huge credit for her conception and execution and her reward is that she has a great hit on her hands.

Here is a Christmas entertainment that will appeal to the widest age range, getting the youngest and the oldest, in equal measure, chortling with right good mirth.

Treasure Island is at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from 5 to 29 December.