Before there was Disney’s Frozen, there was Bryony Lavery’s Frozen. No Olaf here, just the convicted killer of a ten year old girl and her mother having many conversations. The killer is also studied by a doctor. It’s a play about forgiveness and letting it go… Bryony Lavery’s latest play dominates the Olivier Stage, literally; a three story pirate ship emerges from the floor of the National Theatre’s epic Treasure Island. In the spirit of Frozen’s girl power, Treasure Island has its own version of Anna and Elsa in Jim Hawkins, a girl! The Hispaniola’s cabin boy, sorry cabin girl, is Jemima Hawkins.
Lavery’s plays I studied at university are dark, so I was expecting dark, but this retelling was funny. The playwright has embraced Robert Louis Stevenson’s story as a children’s story. A tale of not trusting adults, forging your identity which happens to have awesome and terrible pirates. One such pirate turns up at Jim and her grandmother’s inn, concealed in the trunk is a map. Girls aren’t supposed to have adventures but they let Jim board the ship with a one legged sea cook and you know the rest. I’d almost forgotten that Treasure Island is essentially about adolescence so gender doesn’t matter at all.
Lady Jim Hawkins is played by Patsy Ferran who I’ve never heard of, her one legged nightmare is played by Arthur Darvill, better known as the third wheel of Doctor Who. The cast was absolutely fantastic, with a little help from Lavery’s colourful characters and Polly Findlay’s fantastic direction. Parts almost had a sitcom feel to them, funny stock characters pirates such as Dick the Dandy and Joan the Goat. The mechanical parrot even got a few punch lines in. But all the silly characters and jokes can’t hide Silver’s sinister plans.
This play was a spectacle, a spectacle that one comes to expect at the National. Despite being a subsidised theatre, they can spend a lot of time and money and money on their sets. Thankfully, it was all worth it to support Lavery and Findlay’s vision for Treasure Island. I’d fallen out of love with the National a little while ago when they went through a period of middle class problems. Not plays for a nation, but for the audience that could make it to London’s Embankment. Treasure Island was a play that everyone should see, and more impressively, everyone will want to see and could see at their local cinema.