As we remain in lockdown and the weeks wear on, The National Theatre have been digging through their treasure trove of an archive to bring theatre into our own homes and recently we were treated to a real gem in the form of their critically acclaimed production of Treasure Island. With an incredible set by Lizzie Clachan and a twist on the classic with a gender switched Jim Hawkins, this show proved to be an excellent escape from reality for a couple of hours.
I think that most people know the basics of the story of Treasure Island; a young boy called Jim Hawkins gets swept away in the adventure of a mythical island and finds himself having to compete with legendary pirates in order to find the treasure and solve an mystery from many years ago. This production takes that story and gives it a new twist by having Jim Hawkins as a female character. This creates a new dynamic by playing on the idea that this young girl is having to prove that she can do whatever the male sailors and pirates around her can do, whilst proving that she is in fact smarter than most of them as well, even when they believe that she can’t possibly do it.
The role of Jim (Jemima) Hawkins is played by Patsy Ferran here and she brings the character to life with a wonderful sense of energy. There is excitement in her dialogue and movement as the character is brought into the world of adventure and piracy, and she is able to illustrate just how clever Jim is. There is also an innocence about her with her relationship with Long John Silver when she at first believes that she can trust him and with Dr Livesey (Alexandra Mahor) who cares for Jim when they are on the ship and the island.
Arthur Darvill is a hit with the audience in the role of pirate Long John Silver, able to easily fool the ever trusting and dim witted Squire Trelawney (Nick Fletcher) into letting him board the ship to treasure island and convince Jim that he can be trusted. But it is when his true intentions are revealed that he really comes into his own, commanding his fellow pirates towards finding the treasure and keeping the truth about what really happened to Captain Flint’s long lost crew under wraps.
There are a number of impressive performances throughout (including Tim Samuels’ funny take on the always forgotten Gray), but I have to say that Joshua James proves to be a scene stealer as Ben Gunn, the lost marooned sailor. His hyperactive take on the character, buzzing around the stage and constantly referring to himself in the third person, is both comical and touching. You feel for this character and want him to succeed so that he can escape the madness of the island and his past.
The set for his production is beautiful, with the ship growing out of the stage and the rotation keeping the action moving forwards. The reveal of the ship must have been truly spectacular to witness in the flesh as it was beautiful enough through a computer screen. I also loved the use of music in this piece, with sea shanties and pirate song used throughout between scenes. It had a similar effect to the song man in War Horse (also a National Theatre production), really setting the scene and helping to move the story forwards.
To conclude, Treasure Island is a feast for the eyes and a wonderful story, told by a very talented cast. I believe that it would be enjoyed by the whole family with its tales of pirates and treasure, with an excitement that would delight children. I hope that this archive recording is not the last that we see of this production, as I would love to see this one in the flesh one day.