Treasure Island at the Olivier
The latest winter show from the National Theatre is Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of the classic story Treasure Island, which continues their legacy of true theatrical excellence. The plot, in case you haven’t come across it, is that of Jim Hawkins, who wants nothing but a little adventure, so joins a crew setting sail to find a dead pirate’s treasure.
The most striking thing about this production is Lizzie Clachan’s set, which is a triumph in design. As soon as you enter the Olivier auditorium, you cannot help but be captivated by the great curved timbers at the back of the stage, which could easily be the aft of a ship or a gigantic set of ribs. As the play unfolds, the stage holds more twists and turns than the narrative, with whole levels of movables appearing out of nothing. This and the superlative lighting design brings Robert Louis Stevenson’s fantasy to life in a very real way.
Director Polly Findlay showed her chops putting this ample resource to good use. The great stage never feels empty – unless she wants it to – and her use of old-school sleight-of-hand theatrics allows her to add some real magic. There’s a slightly shaky start acting-wise, but once settled, there are strong turns from all of the sizeable cast. Notable mentions go to Gillian Hanna’s portrayal of Jim’s grandma and Joshua James’ erratic Ben Gunn, but the stand-out performance is found in the duo of Patsy Ferran’s Jim Hawkins and Arthur Darvill’s Long John Silver. Ferran shows that she’s equally comfortable with broad comedy and quiet despair. Darvill clearly delights in his role, and while his Silver is not as openly menacing as other versions of the pirate, his cheerful charisma makes the hoodwinking and manipulation all too believable.
Lavery’s adaptation is well written, in a slightly heightened English that underlines the story’s fairytale aesthetic. It is one of the best adaptations of the tale to date. Blended wonderfully with songs from veteran shanty-writer John Tams and music from Dan Jones, it is everything you could want from a show about pirates.
The performance of Treasure Island on the 22nd January will be broadcast live to over 550 UK cinemas and many more worldwide, as part of NTLive. Whether on stage or on screen, Treasure Island is the must-see of the season.
Photos: Johan Persson
Treasure Island is on at Olivier Theatre until 8th April 2015, for further information or to book visit here.