REVIEW: Treasure Island, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Scarlet Wilderink, Ben Tolley, Niall Ransome and Marcquelle Ward (front) in Treasure Island. Pictures: Sam Taylor

Treasure Island, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until December 29. Box office: 01723 370541 or at

TREASURE Island is re-envisaged with sea shanties, baguette swords, talking vegetables, puppets, rap battles and a giant mechanical crab called Susan in the Stephen Joseph Theatre Christmas show.

Stolen and re-told by story pirate Nick Lane, Robert Louis Stevenson’s nautical adventure is presented by an actor-musician cast of five billed as The Fearsome Pirates.

Or not that fearsome at the Relaxed Performance your reviewer attended where they introduced themselves and explained who each would be playing, while the stage management outlined how the sword fighting would not be dangerous and the maximum noise to be expected was the closing of a trapdoor. Likewise, no-one should be alarmed by the sight of smoke (dry ice) emerging on deck.

Scarlet Wilderink: Revelling in her big fake moustache character switch in Treasure Island

It was fascinating to see the care being taken in making everyone at ease, reaffirming the importance of theatre’s powers of storytelling reaching out to everyone.

Lane’s “brilliantly bonkers” shows, whose adventures always begin and end up back in Scarborough in time for Christmas, have become a staple of the SJT winter programme, Treasure Island following in the unconventional footsteps of Pinocchio, A (Scarborough) Christmas Carol and Alice In Wonderland.

Lane’s humour is always wind-assisted, with any excuse for the word “bum” and prodigious feats of, how to put this, bottom burping. Adults might feel there is too much wind in this particular sail this time, but try telling that to the young ones, who revel in the repetition of Marcquelle Ward’s involuntary trumpeting in the role of apple-loving Jim Hawkins. Nevertheless, maybe a tad less wind next year would still blow the house down.

Marcquelle Ward, left, Scarlet Wilderink, Alice Blundell and Niall Ransome as the Fearsome Pirate storytellers in Treasure Island

Lane’s play feels more episodic than in past years, not merely because the cast announces each chapter, but because there is so much to cram in after dishing out the roles for Ward, Alice Blundell, Niall Ransome, Scarlet Winderink and Ben Tolley, the pick of this winter’s troupe under Erin Carter’s direction.

Tolley arrives in a suit, saying he is attending on behalf of the Stevenson estate to make sure no disrespectful nonsense is allowed on stage, whereupon he is commandeered to play assorted parts, such as Long John Silver (or LJs as he becomes in the climactic rap battle).

This is a typically inventive device by Lane, and Tolley responds to the max as the ship full of Scarborough scalleys heads to Treasure Island in search of Captain Flint’s treasure before the pirates find it.

Alice Blundell with the accident-prone puppet of Captain Smollett in Treasure Island at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

In a second Lane innovation, out goes a talking parrot, in comes a talking…carrot, perched on Silver’s shoulder in his “disguise” as a pirate cook. “Five a day, five a day,” says the Carrot, in one of the comic high points.

Look out for the seagulls too, dropping their messages from the sky on Silver’s head, much to the children’s glee.

Helen Coyston’s stage designs bring out the full potential of the Round setting, especially when the cast creates the deck of the Hispaniola, and the giant mechanical crab claws that emerge through one of the exits ticks the “mild peril” box to amusing effect.

Ben Tolley’s Long John Silver in Treasure Island

Musical director Simon Slater’s new songs are terrific: shanties and nautical nuggets as fresh and bracing as the sea air with fun lyrics to boot.

While not matching the heights of Alice In Wonderland, in particular, Lane’s Treasure Island still has a treasure trove of jollification, adventure and daftness to be discovered, hapless Captain Smollett puppet, big fake moustache, baguette sword fights and all.

Charles Hutchinson

Treasure Island’s remaining performances:

Tuesday December 24; 1pm

Thursday, December 26, 7pm

Friday, December 27, 1pm and 7pm

Saturday, December 28, 1pm and 6pm

Sunday, December 29, 1pm.