Debbie Oates, adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson
Dukes Theatre, Lancaster
Williamson Park, Lancaster
From 05 July 2017 to 12 August 2017
Review by David Upton
It’s 30 years since the Dukes first took their plays outdoors, and in re-visiting one of their Greatest Hits they perhaps inadvertently make you feel every one of those 30 years older.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure yarn was first ‘taken outside’ in 1991 and still leaves vivid memories of swashbuckling stunts and a genuine sense of thrilling period drama, as the play promenaded around the park.
This time writer Debbie Oates and director Joe Sumsion basically re-visit the pantomime version they staged indoors at the Dukes in 2012. Then it worked a treat in close-up confines; this time its treasure tends to get buried amidst the wide open spaces of the parkland setting.
The opening scene, in the children’s playground, establishes a contemporary urban setting but the play ‘furniture’, and poor opening sound quality, obscure the chance of introducing characters or outlining the plot. The courtyard behind the park’s monument remains the tried and trusted location for framing such key information.
After that, audiences tend to plug into the story where and when they can, aboard the vessel that sets sail (from Fleetwood Docks instead of Morecambe this time!) to the Treasure Island stockade, a beach setting, back to the stockade and a water-borne homecoming.
At three hours long, it’s maybe one scene too many so the attention of the target audience does tend to flag. As so often happens, though, a little of the magic of this enchanted parkland rubs off here and there. The sunset over Morecambe Bay comes out right on cue—who is it who does that?—as heroine Jem Hawkins (Natasha Davidson) steers her ship to shore. And Brent Lees, as always, adds his own distinct lighting flourishes to the sylvan surrounds.
In one such setting, Gareth Cassidy, as Tom Morgan, again displays his special gift for physical comedy, but only leaves you wishing there had been so much more. The Day-Glo costumes and designs make it clear from the outset that this Treasure Island is mapped out more for fun than thrills, but then tries to nervously balance between the two.
Next year the Dukes plan to re-visit The Three Musketeers. Will it be a one-for-all—or a free-for-all?