Review by Barry Lenny
The Adelaide Repertory Theatre Society is presenting Bryony Lavery’s stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckling novel, Treasure Island, the popular story of pirates, led by their one-legged captain, Long John Silver, the hunt for Captain Flint’s buried gold, and the discovery of Ben Gunn, a long-marooned and now mad seaman. Published in 1883, it is set in the middle of the 18th Century and was originally titled The Sea Cook: A Story for Boys.
Directed by Megan Dansie, it has been very loosely adapted and modernised by Bryony Lavery, with changes such as the cabin boy, Jim Hawkins, being replaced by a girl. “Be you boy or be you girl?” “That be my business.” Several other roles are also taken by women, including Doctor Livesy, and, as added characters who are not in the novel, both townsfolk and pirates.
It is, in fact, very much like a pantomime, with the heroine, Jim Hawkins, narrating the story directly to the audience, stepping in and out of the action, lots of comedy, over-the-top characterisations, and a few sea shanties to cover set changes. Dansie has chosen to focus strongly on the humour, which pleased the opening night audience.
Billy Bones, dragging his sea chest, arrives at the Admiral Benbow Inn, run by Jim’s grandmother. He drinks heavily and is in fear of a one-legged man. It is, however, Black Dog who arrives, demanding a share of Captain Flint’s treasure. He is refused, and the next to arrive is Blind Pew, who hands Billy Bones the black spot. Billy Bones dies of a stroke. Pew, Black Dog, and others attack the Inn, but are driven off, Pew being killed as the pirates retreat. The treasure map is discovered, and Squire Trelawny, Doctor Livesy, and Jim board the Hispaniola, under the command of Captain Smollett. Long John Silver is engaged as the cook, and he persuades them to engage some of his fellow pirates. The adventure, well, the comedy, begins. You’ll find more differences than similarities between this and the novel.
In an interesting conjunction, Sophie Livingston-Pearce, as Jim Hawkins, plays opposite her father, Stuart Pearce, as the villain, Long John Silver. She is onstage for almost the entirety of the performance and never falters for a moment in her energetic and captivating performance.
Pearce takes a different approach to the character of Long John Silver by having a ‘false’ leg and moving normally, rather than strapping the lower part of a leg behind the upper part, and hobbling around on the crutch that only appears for a moment in his first appearance. There is menace in his characterisation, often hidden beneath pretence of friendliness towards Jim.
Damien White starts the ball rolling, convincing as the paranoid, hard-drinking, belligerent Billy Bones. Squire Trelawney is portrayed as an ineffectual, blundering, naïve idiot, giving Ben Todd ample opportunities to get the audience laughing, while Bronwyn Ruciak plays Doctor Livesey, the sensible one of the pair, trying, often comically unsuccessfully, to prevent the Squire from self-defeating their quest. Lindsay Dunn is the long-suffering Captain Smollett, whose knowledge and common sense are also overridden by the self-important Squire, his frustration adding to the laughs.
There are many smaller roles, all of them important, and enthusiastically portrayed. Brian Godfrey clatters about with his stick as Blind Pew and Thorin Cupit is nicely menacing as Black Dog, while Jacqui Maynard, as Silent Sue, breaks her silence to lead the trio of Shanty singers, although the ukulele was not actually invented until a century later. Rose Vallen adds laughs as the brain-damaged, Joan the Goat, Jenny Allan is fun as Grandma Hawkins, and also as Grey, the seaman that nobody notices, and Thomas Midena, as Israel Hands, speaks only Spanish. Heather Crawford, as Red Ruth, Brad Martin as Job Anderson, Frederick Pincombe as Luky Mickey, Leah Lowe as Dick the Dandy, Mike Leach as Killigrew the Kind, and Ryan Ricci as George Badger all add to the fun. Maxwell Whigham stands out as Ben Gunn, a plum role for any character actor.
Rebecca Kemp has only a few lines as Mrs. Crossley, but her puppetry with a chicken in a handbag is not easily forgotten. The other puppet is Captain Flint, the Parrot, manipulated and voiced by Matthew Chapman, whose threats of attacking the eyes of Silver’s enemies conjures memories of the phoenix in Harry Potter.
Bob Peet’s massively timbered set looks and works well, lit very effectively, as always, by Richard Parkhill. Phil Short composed the original music, and Jay Antoney designed the sound. Also important, of course, are the costumes, designed by Rebecca Jarratt and Megan Dansie.
If you need a giggle, you know where to get it. Arrr…