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REVIEW: Treasure Island at The Barn Theatre, Cirencester

Treasure Island at The Barn Theatre, Cirencester

Treasure Island
Written by Alan Pollock
Directed by Bryan Hodgson
The Barn Theatre, Cirencester
Wednesday, 22 November 2023

Rating: ★★★★☆


In his enduring pirate adventure “Treasure Island”, Robert Louis Stevenson coined many of the familiar tropes of the “Arrr, Jim Lad” school of fiction: salty old scoundrels with black eye-patches, missing limbs and tall tales of how they came to lose them; maps of desert islands, in which ‘X’ marks the spot where the (always empty) casket is buried; gobby parrots, perched on miraculously unsullied shoulders; gold doubloons, pieces of eight and dead men’s chests – all laced with a menacing yo-ho-ho! and a bottle of rum.
In this adaptation of “Treasure Island” for a family audience, writer Allan Pollock has picked up Stevenson’s barnacled baton and run with it.  He offers a fresh perspective on the familiar tale of Jack Hawkins, Long John Silver and Ben Gunn (now renamed Jen Gunn), in the form of a breathtaking romp, replete with corny gags, pulse-quickening jeopardy, tender moments and battles full of thud and blunder.
Bryan Hodgson’s taut direction never allows the urgent pace to flag, while the small cast of young, talented actor/musicians play their instruments with skill and portray their multifarious characters with tongue-in-cheek brio.  Together, they create a vast, vivid world of high adventure, without once bumping into each other or falling off the pocket-sized stage of the Barn Theatre.
The musical numbers, composed by Lee Freeman with lyrics by Mark Anderson, are always in the service of character and action.  They include a couple of show-stoppers: “The Curse of Long John Silver” (sung by George Evans, as the eponymous antihero) and – for me, the highlight of the evening – “Run, Gunn, Run” (a magnetic performance by Georgia Leila Stoller as Jen Gunn).  A hat-tip to musical director Reuben Greeph (who also plays the role of Captain Smollett) for, amid all the alarums and excursions, keeping the cast on the beat and in tune.  Oliver Nazareth Aston, Olivia Rose Deane, Sam Denia and Elliot Gooch complete the strong ensemble.
After a frenetic start, during which punchlines were sabotaged by falling cadences, gags misfired and the narrative was sometimes hard to follow, the performers found their rhythm and (as it seemed from seat D5) began to relax.  The tone of the play – initially uneven and confused – settled into broad comedy, with Sam Denia notably taking no prisoners in his audacious portrayal of the Squire, who ranked highest aboard the “Hispaniola”.
Contrary to my expectations, this is a play with music, not a pantomime.  There are no “Oh no it isn’t! / Oh yes it is!” routines, no slosh scenes, and the weens will wait in vain to be pelted with Haribos.  There are, however, some pantomime-adjacent elements, with Swindon playing the traditional role of neighbouring joke-butt.
A rattling good yarn, with a bunch of cracking songs and loads of rib-tickling laughs: what more could one ask of a family Christmas show?  Not a lot.  But will it appeal to the little phone-strokers?  I’ll let R.L. Stevenson answer:
“If this don’t fetch the kids, why, they have gone rotten since my day.”
N.B. Contains strobe lighting.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (including interval)
“Treasure Island” runs at the Barn Theatre, Cirencester, until Saturday 6 January 2024.

Reviewer: Paul Sharples
Explore Gloucestershire
24 December 2023

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