Review: Treasure Island at the Birmingham Rep

Well it’s that time of year again when the Christmas shows start to twinkle one by one and this year the Rep’s got what I might respectfully call the posh panto with this elegant and extremely sophisticated adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic Boy’s Own adventure of all time, Treasure Island.

But this is no ordinary staging. This is state-of-the-art theatre with knobs on, pure RSC production values throughout.

Treasure Island

Treasure Island

For a start it’s got Bryony Lavery’s marvellous script, full of clever off-the cuff life-as-she-is-lived remarks and elegant jokes plus vividly varied characterisation that brings the story to jolting life.

The atmospheric opening sequence in the isolated inn on a freezing black night is enough to make the hair stand on end without the cast of genuinely scary nautical desperadoes who for some unfathomable reason are making this their port of call. After that the resulting adventure doesn’t let up for a minute.

The cast too is straight from theatre heaven headed by Sarah Middleton as proto-cabin boy Jim in bang-on traditional panto cross-casting that here somehow seems a surprisingly self-conscious nod to political correctness. Sian Howard is marvellous as Doctor Livesey, Tonderai Munyevu delightfully dithery as Squire Trelawney.

But it’s Thomas Pickles as the shipwrecked sailor Ben Gunn whose unexpected appearance dominates the second half. His extraordinary performance as the unhinged castaway poignantly dialoguing with himself and pining for cheese is both defiant and deeply comic announcing in my opinion the appearance of an enormous talent, in other words, a new star.

Director Phillip Breen’s production values really are first rate with a beautiful morphing set and marvellously atmospheric lighting from the freezing black night of the opening scene to the blazingly sunshiny tropical isle of the second half. And Mark Bailey’s costumes for this show are something special, sophisticated, endlessly inventive clothes channelling Vivienne Westwood’s iconic “Pirates” collection (with a nod to All Saints), worth watching for these alone.

But this whole audacious show never misses a beat, and my own concerns that it was perhaps too grown up for some children were easily calmed by the four year old in front of me who sat raptly throughout.

Go see.

Treasure Island runs at the Rep until January 7. For tickets phone the box office on 0121 236 4455 or go online.

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