There’s a wonderful moment – a maritime take on Hitchcock’s Rear Window – in Treasure Island where a cross section of the Hispaniola rises up through the stage revealing various rooms and cabins of the ship. It’s a wonder the audience didn’t applaud.
Money has been splurged on this year’s Christmas show at the National. Lizzie Clachan’s deliciously complicated designs require full use of the Olivier’s drum revolve and there’s an clever take on Long John Silver’s leg, plus an impressive animatronic parrot. But that’s pretty much all the good news from Phil.
Director Polly Findlay and writer Bryony Lavery‘s take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of piracy, deception and a search for buried treasure was such a lacklustre evening for Phil that he assumed he was watching an early preview on Monday evening, but in fact it opens tonight. The concept that there were a few female pirates has been seized on with such brio most of those seawomen must surely appear here.
A woman (Patsy Ferran, who somehow almost stole scenes from Dame Angela Lansbury in this year’s Blithe Spirit) also plays Jim Hawkins, teasing us as to whether she is or isn’t a boy “That be my business”. You’ll find out at the end, should your attention last that long.
Lavery’s tried to inject some humour; one half decent gag referring to L J Silver “I was standing two feet from a one-legged man” didn’t raise so much as a titter, though there’s some amusement to be had from Tim Samuels’ Mr Grey who remains so unnoticed you half expect him to burst into a chorus of Chicago’s “Mr Cellophane”.
Children may struggle to keep up with the plot in Act 1. Phil certainly did. His excuse was that he was distracted by two women further down his row who, presumably thinking they’re on Gogglebox, proceeded to comment on the proceedings throughout the first hour. That was until the woman sitting next to them eventually shushed them and peace prevailed. Good on her! Shame she didn’t do it earlier.
The plot demands that two of the more interesting characters are killed off early on. A couple of other performances are so wooden that if the actors were forced to walk the plank they’d invariably float. One seemed to confuse gurning at the audience with acting.
Joshua James’ Ben Gunn – driven mad by being stranded on an island covered with inflating and deflating pustules – has conversations with himself you’ll be reminded of Gollum. Arthur Darvill has eschewed an over the top Johnny Depp take on piracy to emerge as a slightly colourless L J Silver despite his impressively designed prosthetic limb. Phil longed for Brian Blessed even if that had delivered us into the realm of pantoland.
So it’s left to Mr Flint, the talking, wing flapping, mechanical parrot (kudos to John Nolan Studios) to steal every scene that isn’t stolen by the sets. Though more attention might have be paid to a scene where it is being shot at as it apparently flies above us – delivering clouds of blue and yellow feathers over the stalls – as someone forgot to remove the automated one from the side of the stage quickly enough. Sloppy.
Among all the cutlass clashing, throat-cutting and disemboweling Phil failed to spot any blood. Which summed up this production for Phil; curiously bloodless in both senses. Not one to treasure. Rating