Treasure Island at The Watermill, Bagnor, until January 2
GRAB your cutlasses and don your eye-patches - although you may want to lift them up during the performance as you won’t want to miss a thing - The Watermill’s Christmas show is a swashbucklng adventure brimming with thrills, spills, daring-do and festive sparkle.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s 19th century children’s story has been cleverly tweaked for the 21st century by playwright Toby Hulse to make sure the production appeals to girls as well as boys, and also to ensure that the bloodthirsty elements of the tale can remain without making it too gory for the youngest of pirates.
And so, the story began in the bedroom of Emily, a modern-day girl who dreamt of growing up to be a pirate rather than a businesswoman. As Emily conjured up a motley crew of her own, the bedroom curtains swept back to reveal an “ooh”-inspiring set, that made the most of The Watermill’s natural design to double up as the Admiral Benbow inn, the schooner Hispaniola, and the island inself.
In turn, Emily’s musical pirates took on the roles of various Treasure Island characters, with Emily herself becoming young Jim Hawkins, the innkeeper’s son who runs away to sea to find the pirate treasure marked on a mysterious map. This device allowed the cast of six to constantly break the fourth wall, with knowing remarks to the audience, “I’m not really dead” being a regular call, dissolving any darkness in the tale with a cheer as the pirate bounced back up, dusted himself down and bounded off to take on the next crucial role in the tale.
A hefty injection of panto-style fun also worked well as the pirates goofed around with the props, asked the audience to suspend disbelief regarding a clearly two-legged Long John Silver and invited all to help in the ambush of the mutineers by bombarding the stage with foam rocks. The audience, of course, obliged with much gusto.
Despite the laughs to be had, Emily (Emily Butterfield) was left questioning whether a pirate’s life was truly for her when a jolly hunt for treasure revealed a raft of double crossing and left such mayhem in its wake. But with a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, she was persuaded that the pirate life of her imagination was worth at least one final carouse.
As for the audience, many of whom had dressed for the occasion - well, there was no need to down the grog before setting sail on this thrilling and funny adventure, that brought the classic book to life with just the right mix of respect and modern insight. The Watermill has created a Christmas production to be treasured.
Catriona Reeves and Miya Akeda-Morris, aged nine
- First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, December 2, 2010