Treasure Island

Robert Louis Stevenson, adapted by Karen Louise Hebden
Derby Playhouse

Production photo

Treasure Island is back. After Derby Playhouse was closed for just over a week because of financial problems, its Christmas production has returned to the stage. But is it worth seeing? Just about.

When the theatre selected Robert Louis Stevenson's classic for its festive offering, the management unashamedly admitted they were trying to capitalise on the current popularity of pirates in general and Pirates of the Caribbean in particular.

Since then, though, Treasure Island has taken on far greater importance: the future of the theatre in its present form stands or falls on this production. If the administrators running the Playhouse can't be persuaded that it has a viable future, it will go dark again when Treasure Island concludes its run.

So how does it compare with previous Christmas shows at Derby Playhouse? Treasure Island is not as visually stunning as last year's production A Christmas Carol but it's not as ponderous as Arabian Nights in 2005 or as plodding as Merlin and the Winter King in 2004.

Treasure Island is typical of Derby Playhouse productions in that it's well acted, brilliantly staged and the music is superbly performed. But Karen Hebden has chosen to bring out the dark side of the story; parts of it go on for too long and it's not until the second half when the comic figure of Ben Gunn is introduced and there's far more swashbuckling and shooting that the show bursts into life.

All the actors who were in the previews of Treasure Island before the theatre closed have returned and it's a talented line-up. They're so versatile it's hard to believe the cast comprises only ten actors and a parrot.

Glyn Kerslake who's becoming a regular in Derby is outstanding as Long John Silver. He's just as convincing when he shows compassion for Jim Hawkins as he is when he's a double-crossing, back-stabbing pirate. And he's absolutely mastered the art of walking on one leg and a crutch, with his other leg strapped up behind him.

Derbyshire actor Ben Roberts is his usual stirring self as Captain Smollett and also as Captain Billy Bones who suffers a miserable demise before the interval.

There are commendable performances from Maurice Clarke who gives a solid portrayal of Dr Livesey; James Head as a gloriously eccentric Squire Trelawney; Gregory Gudgeon, a real oddball as Ben Gunn; and Daniel Hinchliffe who captured Jim Hawkins' boyish, wide-eyed innocence to perfection.

Sara Perks' set, which makes full use of the Playhouse's revolving stage, is amazing and quickly becomes an inn, a quayside, a ship or a stockade.

But some of the music composed for the production falls short of making a lasting impression. Only Ben Gunn's song about wanting a piece of cheese is pleasurable.

The sea shanties go down better, although by the end I'd certainly heard enough of "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum."

After the performance Karen Hebden took to the stage to ask for theatregoers' support in three ways: buying more tickets, giving money to the theatre or writing to their councillor to join the battle to save the Playhouse.

Treasure Island isn't to everyone's taste but it exemplifies how the current management can serve up a good product and attract high-quality actors. Now it's up to theatregoers to decide whether to gamble on the Playhouse's future.

"Treasure Island" runs until January 26th

Reviewer: Steve Orme

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