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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Treasure Island
Haymarket Theatre Winter 2008-2009

There is nothing wrong with this holiday-period family show that a little vitality, colour, energy, imagination, originality, swash-buckling and life couldn't cure.

In other words, what this play needed was a director in tune with the genre, and Sean Holmes is clearly not that man.

Ken Ludwig's script is fine. It tells the story of the boy caught up with pirates clearly and efficiently, it has room for several rousing sea chanteys and a couple of sword fights, it has loads of potentially colourful, scary or comic characters.

It even adds some new layers to Stevenson's original by making Long John Silver an old friend of Jim's father, who shared his love of Shakespeare with both of them. It should get the audience caught up in the fun, cheering or hissing as freely as if they were in a panto.

And yet it just lies there on the stage, even more lifeless than the occasional murdered pirate (who is likely to be seen crawling offstage). And the fault must be entirely the director's.

Nothing works. The pirates are thoroughly un-frightening, the good guys hardly register, the sword fights all have the tentativeness of a first rehearsal.

It might be too much to ask Keith Allen to duplicate Robert Newton's iconic 'Arrrgh, Jim, me lad' drawl, but it would be nice if he did something - anything - to suggest the character's magnetism or at least to make him noticeable in the crowd scenes.

Michael Legge's Jim Hawkins has some of the oiliness of a kids' TV presenter in his narrative scenes, but is too wooden for our hero.

The roles of Squire Trelawney, the self-important but out-of-his-depth sponsor of the treasure-hunting voyage, and Ben Gunn, the half-mad castaway, are clearly written as comic, but John Lightbody and Paul Brennen are not natural comic actors, and their director has not guided them to the level of camp over-the-top-ness the play wants, so you are repeatedly aware, just as it goes by, of a potentially funny moment missed.

But the whole show lacks life. For some reason lighting designer Paul Anderson has decided that every single scene takes place at night or in gloomy near-darkness, while set and costume designer Lizzie Clachan has banished every hint of colour (except for the very brief and startling appearance of Trelawney's red coat) from the uniformly drab palette.

The only hope I could offer for this show is if, as it runs, the cast begin to loosen up and, with nothing to lose, begin to have fun with their characters. Then it just might take on some of the aliveness and touch of anarchy it so desperately wants.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Treasure Island - Haymarket 2008