s Bristol Old Vic continues to be refurbished inside (I have written about how uncomfortable and creaky it used to be!), the enterprising team of Tom Morris and Emma Stenning (Artistic and Executive Directors, respectively) have taken to the streets to continue the theatre’s output. The result, Sally Cookson’s visually stunning, rip-roaring piratical adventure, is a triumph.
It’s hard to imagine more fun than sitting in balmy sunshine, full of pre-show Pieminster pie, watching a talented and extremely hard-working cast bring Jim Hawkins’ sea-faring, treasure-hunting, pirate-fighting exploits to life. Jim himself (Jonny Weldon) has an impressive range, and you cannot help but share his wide-eyed wonder as he finds his sea-legs, uncovers plots and finds the treasure. Tristan Sturrock’s villainous Long John Silver hops about the stage with admirable lightness of foot, and is clearly having a great time as the baddie with a heart, leaping around the split-level stage. On a side note, given that dead bodies not only get up and walk off-stage but also return seconds later reincarnated thanks to a swift wig-change, it seems kind of harsh to make Sturrock hop upstairs – no-one would have minded if he used his “missing” leg to get about a bit. However, he gamely hobbles about, wielding crutch, soup spoon and knife with accuracy and speed, much to the delight of the young audience.
Phil Edolls’ set is brilliant, full of ropes and rails to represent inn, ship and island, and back again. He has perfectly judged the small space, building up rather than out, and creating a playground of a stage across the front of the Old Vic that the cast embrace with gusto – using the first floor windows as entrances is a nice touch. The cast work incredibly hard, too, doubling or tripling up, and if this sometimes means that the accents get a bit lopsided, or take a while to catch up with the lightning-quick scene changes, well, this is easily forgiven on a warm summer evening when one is full of pie.
The whole thing is ridiculous fun, with pirates appearing left, right and centre, squiffy wigs transforming actors from pirate to doctor, and far too many rousing sea shanties. These are sung with more enthusiasm than skill, and although one or two are fun, overall they appear slightly too often – and the cast’s acting talents are not matched by beautiful voices. The music generally, however (composed, directed and performed by Benji Bower, with the cast chipping in), is well-judged and rousing – aided by un-scripted seagulls.
The whole cast displays an infectious enthusiasm, whether they are plotting foul murders or tucking into a glass of grog. The outdoor setting, screeching seagulls and neat Bristolian references are all nice, and make the play feel very at home in its temporary and rather hap-hazard space.
Treasure Island is being performed in a special space outside the Bristol Old Vic theatre until 26 August www.bristololdvic.org.uk