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Treasure Island [Open Air Production]

Chesil Theatre    Grounds of Winchester College, Winchester Anne Waggott 11 July  2023


There can’t be many people who have never even heard of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s enduring classic tale of pirate adventures on the high seas and their quest to find the late Captain Flint’s hidden golden treasure. Who hasn’t heard of Long John Silver?! So, if, like me, you have loved the story since childhood and have tickets for Chesil Theatre’s open-air production of Treasure Island, you probably think that you know exactly what to expect – but you may, in fact, be in for a few not-so-secret golden nuggets in Phil Wilmott’s fun-packed adaptation, which still holds faithful to Stevenson’s original story.

Rather than ‘just’ a ‘Boy’s Own’ tale of skullduggery and bravery, Willmott’s version introduces female pirates and a couple of traditionally male characters who are now fair yet feisty ladies. With the addition of the cutest street-dancing rats and charming mermaids, this is a fun and joyous rendition from start to finish.

Opening night was a special Charity Gala performance as part of Chesil Theatre’s outreach programme for those in the community who may not have easy access to theatre, with tickets gifted to 17 charities and other organisations to pass on to those they support and, where applicable, their carers. It was evident that the production was extremely popular with all who attended, and I also enjoyed it immensely!

Beatrice Shambrook more than holds her own against more experienced and mature performers as young Jim Hawkins, cabin boy aboard the good ship Hispaniola. Confident and assured, she has adapted to the additional vocal challenges of open-air performances with aplomb and is a most engaging hero at the heart of the narrative.

There are wonderful characters amongst the band of misguided reprobate pirates, particularly from Ian Fraser (Israel Hands), Steve Clark (Gentleman Jack), Fi Penman-Walker (Shoreditch Sal) and Michael Leckie (Harry Flash). Danny Olsson (Blind Pugh / Sunshine Sam) and Martin Crawley (George Merry / Billy Bones) are both given the opportunity to show the depth and variety of their acting abilities with distinct characterisations and accompanying accents, an opportunity they each grasp with both hands. Peter Liddiard is so convincing as Black Dog that I heard at least one member of the audience say, “He really is a dog!”

Marcus Whitfield vividly brings Long John Silver’s character to life, springing from page to stage with gusto, his apparent closeknit bond with young Jim heartwarming, so that his subsequent betrayal becomes all the more gut-wrenching. Last seen at the Chesil as the tortured eponymous Macbeth, I already appreciated that Tez Cook is an accomplished actor. Here, his skills as a puppeteer come to the fore as you momentarily forget that Long John Silver’s parrot, cheekily also named Captain Flint, isn’t “just a puppet”!

Christina Pye (eccentric Lady Trelawney) and Juliette Cross (her steadfast companion, Miss Livesey) bounce off each other to delightful comedic effect, counterbalanced by Charlie Seligman’s respectable and resolute Captain Smollett, while Ade Fry/Ben Gunn’s infatuation with cheese is strangely endearing!

It seems so churlish not to name every member of the cast but suffice it to say that this is an ensemble production of rollicking entertainment, where there are no weak links at all, and each member is integral to the enjoyments to be had.

With a striking storybook scenery, a truly impressive mast, excellent costumes and the backdrop of Winchester College’s Science building adding to the aesthetic appeal, married together with charismatic performances, music and dance, director Sarah Hawkins and her cast and crew should be very proud of the treasure chest of entertainment they have created.

So, grab a picnic, camping chair and layers of outdoor clothing (for all weathers!), and head down to the grounds of Winchester ticket for a production of swashbuckling merriment on the high seas!

Treasure Island runs until Saturday 15 July at 7.30pm each evening, with a 2.30pm Saturday matinee; gates open 6.00pm for evening performances and 1.00pm for the matinee on Saturday. Full details and tickets available on Chesil Theatre’s website.