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A CurtainUp London London Review
Treasure Island

You'll die for this you little maggot! — George Merry
 Treasure Island
Keith Allen as Long John Silver and Michael Legge as Jim Hawkins
(Photo: Clive Barda)
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure of pirates and the high seas, comes to the Theatre Royal Haymarket in time for the holiday season and is exactly the kind of escapism needed for the whole family. Seasonal pantomime can be an acquired taste and some of that humour is of the variety that you'd prefer the children not to understand, so a rip roaring adventure yarn with sea shanties, rope climbing and villainous pirates hits the spot. In a strange twist, the day Treasure Island opens in London, there is a real act of piracy on the high seas with the Saudi oil tanker, the MV Sirius Star, captured by Somali pirates reminding us of the terror and murder of piracy rather than the swashbuckling romance.

The opening scenes are magnificent — a shattering thunderstorm the like of which London theatre has never heard and sailors hanging off ropes and swaying to give the impression of the roll and dip of the ship's motion. Rear projection is used to give atmosphere whether it is the image of galloping hooves which kill a man or the waves on the horizon or the impression of a throbbing heart as someone has an attack of angina. Sean Holmes' production looks at this point as if it will be magnificent. There is a sword fight almost in the dark with a swinging lantern and characters like the fearsome Billy Bones (Tony Bell) and Blind Pew (John Lightbody) with the tap tap of his stick, fill the stage with terror and apprehension. The language is so rich and the characterisation of the grizzly pirates so real, I was chilled.

We are a long time awaiting Long John Silver's entrance and this is where this production of Treasure Island takes an inexplicable dive. Keith Allen with a mouthful of gold teeth quietly underplays the enigmatic Silver. In fact, despite being miked up, he is almost inaudible and instead of full of charisma, his performance is mild. It is true that Silver is a villain with a soft spot for the boy Jim Hawkins (Michael Legge, who while looking boyish, needs to wax his hairy chest if we are to believe that he is a boy). It may be that contradiction which has thrown Keith Allen who is known for his television and film acting rather than theatre, that is when he isn't known for his singing daughter Lily Allen. Silver is a most remarkable man and Keith Allen's performance is sadly unremarkable. He is not helped by the wooden leg which looks more as if it is made of riveted iron than wood — think Terminator but rusty — and he uses his crutch not on the bad leg side but on the good leg. The parrot is a mechanical bird which spends more time on its box than Silver's shoulder but which doesn't have much of a part. The second act see the crazed, ship wrecked Ben Gunn (Paul Brennen)and some amazing rope work from Matt Costain as Israel Hands as he flees up a rope in an attempt to escape, but it is as if the director has run short of ideas and the production short of money.

The sets and costumes are spectacular. Island forests hung with ropes and creepers, dark cobbled streets near the Hawkins' pub The Admiral Benbow and wonderful ship and seascapes. The onstage band is excellent and the live music full of atmosphere. The fights too are well choreographed and genuinely exciting. It is likely that Allen will find a better level of performance as the runs progresses which would give the whole production the lift it needs.

Treasure Island
Written by Robert Louis Stevenson
Adapted by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Sean Holmes

Starring: Keith Allen, Matt Costain, Michael Legge, John Lightbody
With: James Atherton, Mark Bagnall, Tony Bell, Paul Brennen, Estella Daniels, Branwell Donaghey, Howard Gossington, Dermot Kerrigan, James Lailey, Mark Theodore, Sharlene Whyte
Design: Lizzie Clachan
Lighting: Paul Anderson
Sound: Emma Laxton
Video: Daniel Kluge
Fights: Terry King
Director of Rope: Matt Costain
Composer: Tom Haines
Musical Director/Composer: Ross Hughes
Musicians: Tamar Osborn, Julian Reeve, Ross Hughes
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0845 481 1870
Booking to 28th February 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th November 2008 performance at Theatre Royal Haymarket, Haymarket, London SW1 (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
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