TREASURE ISLAND

By Robert Louis Stevenson
Adapted by Nicolas Billon
Directed by Mitchell Cushman
At the Avon Theatre. Till October 22, 2017

Juan Chioran (Long John Silver) and Thomas Mitchell Barnet (James/Jim Hawkins) (photo: Lynda Churilla)

The pity of it all. Despite excellent scenic design by Douglas Paraschuk, costumes by Charlotte Dean, atmospheric lighting by Kevin Fraser (especially for the wild areas of an island), and some zestful acting, this production can’t quite settle on a consistent style. Nicolas Billon’s adaptation has occasional flashes of rudimentary word-play (“Gold’s not for you, Silver”) and broad jocular allusions to Hamlet and Lord of the Flies (that may elude many in the audience), and there are robust, colourful character sketches by Bruce Hunter as hard-drinking, paranoid Billy Bones, Sarah Dodd as gender-bending Dr. Livesey, and Juan Chioran in his dual roles as Jim’s father and peg-legged Silver. There is also a very broad sketch by Gordon Patrick White as Black Dog and a more dignified one by Randy Hughson as Squire Trelawny. Thomas Mitchell Barnet gives an open-hearted performance as the boy James who turns into Jim Hawkins, caught in a growth-spurt, though the actor’s physique is far too tall to be visually convincing as a boy.

The much-bruited father-son theme gets very little clarity or justification, apart from Jim’s father metamorphosing into Silver, and even at that, how is a one-legged, well-spoken con man a model for an adventurous boy? The radical tampering with Stevenson is entertaining for many moments, with the cast eagerly engaging in interaction with the kids in the audience by asking directions to buried treasure or the ship, or where a large paper parrot in flight serves as Silver’s GPS device. Stevenson’s adventure story generated by the imagination of young Jim Hawkins (who sees and hears things that adults do not) begins, in Billon’s curious adaptation, with a lot of buckle and some swash at first, evolves into a dazzling circus aerial act by Katelyn McCulloch as the unlikeliest Ben Gunn imaginable (gender-changed and turned into a sort of rhyming Puck, with hardly any contact with Stevenson’s story), and when the show tries to become a musical with very few songs (hardly any memorable), the cast is caught with their pantos down. Ross Petty Productions do it much better.

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