Treasure Island – review

This review first appeared in British Theatre Guide

Leicester Haymarket Theatre, Debbie Hicks and Matthew Forbes present
Treasure Island
Adapted by Sandi Toksvig from the book by Robert Louis Stevenson
Music by David Perkins, lyrics by Jenifer Toksvig
Directed by Matthew Forbes
Haymarket Theatre, Leicester to 6 January 2019

Give thanks, for a new theatre is born (again). Leicester’s Haymarket Theatre was an iconic presence in the city from the early 1970s until its closure in 2007, with many a now-famous actor treading its boards over the years.

Having gone dark and fallen into disrepair, it is very welcome and admirable that, against all the current economic odds, the Haymarket has now re-opened thanks to a consortium of individuals from the city’s arts community. Treasure Island’s writer/adaptor Sandi Toksvig nicely references this, as well as many other Leicester-related phenomena, in this first in-house production at the venue.

053_Treasure Island_Pamela Raith PhotographyToksvig, along with director Matthew Forbes, delivers a rather quirky love-child with this production, between a The Play That Goes Wrong style of “professionals acting as amateurs”, and a meta-theatrical panto. Throw in puppetry, numerous breakings of the fourth wall, audience participation and rousing songs and shanties and you have an enjoyable family production, perfect for Christmas (or indeed any time of year).

Adhering loosely to the plot of Stevenson’s original story, the actors open up the stage, gather props, assign roles and in true panto style, our hero Jim Hawkins is cast across gender (Kat Engall). Given a treasure map, Jim sets sail to find said treasure, aided and abetted (and antagonised) by Captain Smollett, Long John Silver, a wise-cracking parrot et al, as well as some updated characters—Squire De Montfort, for example.

All the cast dance, sing, work puppets or play instruments with great aplomb and infectious enthusiasm and you can’t help getting caught up in the jollity. In a genius move, local hero Gary Lineker also makes an amusing appearance on video.

The songs are great fun and help drive the action forward, with David Perkins’s infectious melodies working a treat with Jenifer Toksvig’s clear and apposite lyrics (and yes, she is Sandi’s songwriting sister).

081_Treasure Island_Pamela Raith PhotographyRebecca Brower’s set design does a lot with a little, and the sequence where the cast construct a ship from wooden frames and scaffolding to a rousing shanty is impressive. Forbes’s long history of working on War Horse is also evident with great puppetry by several members of the cast, particularly the hilarious Ben Gun character.

Some of the humour is a bit too knowing and clever at times and the overtly political gags don’t always work; however these are minor quibbles.

Puns and pirate-high jinks abound (and carry on in the entertaining programme), with much for children and adults alike to enjoy; what a wonderful way to mark the Haymarket’s resurrection, and the return of a Leicester treasure.

Images by Pamela Raith Photography

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