‘TREAD The Boards’ is a small professional company based in their own theatre just a stone throw from the RSC’s Stratford –upon- Avon HQ. From its bijou performing space in Cox’s Yard, it offers a unique alternative season to its hallowed neighbours. I always relish going there to review – it’s a bit like opening a gift box and holding your breath to see what’s inside.
Robert Louis Stephenson’s classic pirate tale ‘Treasure Island’ enthralled me and many other youngsters of a certain age. I remember my heart missing a beat as I read how Blind Pew gave Billy Bones the black spot and how we emulated this in the playground – pressing pieces of paper with a black ink spot into the hand of a boy you were intending to do battle with after school. So would an adaption of this classic that was to feature fun and puppets fall into the realms of cheap panto? Would I have to give my first chastened review to a company I treasure? (no pun intended).
Fear ye not RLS faithfuls, this version penned by John-Robert Partridge is oh-so-clever. It trips neatly twixt serious story telling and madcap antics appealing cleverly on all levels to young and old alike.
The original story and characters are there in their entirety. The Admiral Benbow Inn owned by Jim Hawkin’s mum in Bristol, Trelawney’s schooner, the Hispaniola, under Captain Smollett – and we arrive at Treasure Island complete with sand and palm trees just like we should.
The additions of plenty of water squirting at the audience, an occasional barrage of jokes that are so lame they become really funny, are a joyous addition. Pippa Church’s puppets including a very believable Captain Flint parrot are not upstaging, not silly, just excellent extra cast members – this is a pirate party that respects its origins.
Pete Meredith is a delight as Jim Hawkins our hero, ‘his book at bedtime voice’ hits just the right tone as he narrates the tale of his boyhood adventure. Matilda Bott takes versatility to a new level as she switches roles and genders like pulling rabbits out of hats. Rebecca Pratt as the good egg Dr Livesey is like the best doctor you would want coming to see you if you were ill, Josh Radcliffe makes for an all-embracing Job Anderson. Phil Leach performs a superb contrasting double as the stiff upper lipped Captain Smollet and the marooned nutty pirate Ben Gunn. Robert More is quite rightly larger than life in his duo as bad boy Billy Bones and dim-witted gentry Squire Trelawny.
Finally, we have another master class from John-Robert Partridge as the one legged pirate Long John Silver. There is very much an air of the 1950 film with Robert Newton about Partridge’s performance. It is intense, sometimes dark, sometimes funny and always watchable. His ‘Ah-ha me hearties’ are full of sea salt and piratical mystery.
The big plus for me are that this hard working cast of seven (they play a myriad of roles besides the ones I’ve mentioned) always believe in what they are doing, whether that is singing a shanty, sharing a joke or slitting someone’s throat.
There is much energy and imagination packed into this summer special; it genuinely offers up real family entertainment that will send you home with big smiles.
Don’t take my word for it – young or old (or a combination of both) get yourselves along to the Attic. Fabulous theatre from the best fringe company I know.
Tread the Boards’ Treasure Island runs at The Attic theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until August 31.
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