There is a dialogue reproduced in the show’s programme between Andy Cannon and Iain Johnstone, the actors behind the story telling company, Wee Stories, about why they chose Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island for their show.
It sums up how I and possibly many others recall the story – they think they know it but only really remember the names of Long John Silver, the likes of Blind Pugh and Jim Hawkins. It is many a year since I read it as a school Home Reader, turning the tissue paper pages under sufferance as this was very much a ‘boy’s book’. Though Robert Newton was memorable as Long John Silver in the film, swashbuckling, mutiny and finding buried treasure weren’t high on my list of things to do!
I am grateful, then, that Wee Stories has turned this boy’s own adventure to, as it also says on the programme, “Blood, greed, murder and mutiny for all the family!”
They start the tale as two shipwrecked musicians from a cruise liner who, after three weeks on a raft are finding their tolerance of each other wearing thin. Apart from the ukulele or ‘monkey guitar’ and double bass, their only solace when the champagne and bananas run out, is a copy of Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
They say boys never grow up and Andy Cannon and Iain Johnstone consummately manage to look as though they are spontaneously playing on stage as they take on the characters from the book, from Billy Bones to Captain Smollett, the Squire, pirates and the only woman Mrs Hawkins, with an array of simple props and their usual fantastic imagination. With the mere repetition of a character’s phrase, Iain and Andy allow that character to appear emblematically while they are playing somebody else. Fantastic stuff that the audience, made up mainly of schoolchildren, both understood and enjoyed.
An effective video backdrop showing the enticing treasure map, skull and crossbones and the hand of evil Captain Flint, gives an added dimension to the piece, but it is the talent of these two actors that gives the show its vitality. They know how much children (and adults) laugh at references to bodily functions and the show is peppered with them. They also manage to get good audience participation, encouraging us to be ‘secret pirates’ and make scary noises. It was encouraging to see fellow reviewers joining in with gusto! The piece is full of music and fittingly has as parenthesis a tune from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance and a rendition Red Sails in the Sunset.
Throughout the performance, Stevenson’s book rightly played a prominent role with the idea that new generations of children be encouraged to actually read it. Wee Stories say that their goal is “…to produce theatre that is accessible to the broadest possible audience, creating exciting, rewarding and stimulating theatrical events…” Mission accomplished!
King’s Theatre till 24 April
Touring till 12 June