|Date||7th February 2020|
|Venue||Peaslake Memorial Hall|
|Type of Production||Pantomime|
|Assistant Directors||Jude Pitcher, Ellie Galloway|
Author: Jane Turner
I had never thought of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island as a pantomime subject, but this version by Ben Crocker transformed it into a rollicking, thigh-slapping story with some comical extras which I think would have had Stevenson totally baffled! Treasure Island, originally called The Sea-Cook, first appeared as a serial in 1882 and was his first work to make him popular. The story is set in the 1700s and in the original is narrated by Jim Hawkins, son of the proprietors of the Admiral Benbow Inn. The addition of the Women’s Institute in this version was a touch of genius. This was an entirely new script and very funny it was too.
The show started with young dancers giving a spirited introduction. Their enthusiasm was obvious and they appeared frequently, opening the various scenes with lively routines.
The story began with Mrs Hawkins, Mike Sutton playing the energetic Dame, trying to control the unruly customers in the Admiral Benbow pub and bemoaning her dying husband in bed upstairs who we never saw but who occasionally recovered miraculously. Sutton had the audience immediately on his side and latched on to an unfortunate member of the audience, Roger (was that really his name?) to be the butt of many a joke. Her son Jim, Felix Woods, gave a delightful performance as the brave young hero, determined to find their fortune. All the essentials of the treasure chest, the treasure map, the dreaded Black Spot brought by the Pirates, were present. Along comes Squire Trelawney (not very bright), Saul Galloway, every bit the gentlemen who looked as though he was about to join the Surrey Union Hunt, trying to collect the unpaid rent. His lovely daughter Jenny, Kiki Burke, took no time falling in love with Jim and the pair were charming together, eventually saving the day from walking the plank, being set adrift in a boat and being shipwrecked on the island.
Long John Silver, Ted Horton, took command from the moment he arrived. His facial expressions were something to behold and changed constantly. Both he and Mike Sutton were very strong in their roles. Polly the Parrot, Kate Cudlip, had a lovely part. She flapped about in her fluffy costume, hiding in a tree, teasing Silver and constantly trying to sit on his shoulder which she eventually achieved– well, almost! She provided a good dose of the humour, enhanced by her Welsh accent. Silver’s love song to her, with the backing of his raucous mates, was particularly amusing.
The WI ladies and the Pirates were a wonderful combination. I was impressed by the number of gentlemen “of a certain age” whose energy as Pirates never flagged. They gave it their all, with gusto. As for the WI under the frustrated leadership of Mrs Henderson, Di Ferguson (who never let go of her handbag) – each was a character in herself, trying to bring a touch of common sense and sanity to the proceedings with references to Health & Safety and Risk Assessments. They were hilarious.
There was the classic sing-along with the audience, the ghostly disappearing act, and instead of sweets, the audience was treated to an inescapable deluge from giant water pistols. The story came to a happy conclusion, much as in the book, with all the elements of traditional panto mixed with contemporary costumes and humour.
A combination of traditional panto outfits for the Dame, the pirates and the parrot contrasted with the modern (dowdy!) garments of the ladies of the Women’s Institute, the customers in the Inn, the Squire, his daughter and Jim, blending tradition with the current day. The Dame, well padded out in the appropriate places, sported a variety of colourful costumes and stockings and a wild, untameable wig. The parrot was delightfully fluffy – I particularly liked the yellow Marigold gloves on her feet - and the Pirates traditionally clad. Their so-called disguises as WI members were very funny. As for the ladies of the WI, their outfits were so obviously genuine that I thought they must have just come from a meeting around the corner.
The simple flats on either side were painted with bright village houses leading steeply down to the sea and remained throughout the production. Clever use of projected scenes on to the back of the stage changed with each scene, showing the interior of the Inn, the sea, the island, etc. The basic props had a rustic touch and could easily be carried on and off.
Congratulations to Katie Kinnes on her directorial debut. Peaslake Players are lucky to have someone who was able to transform what was already a very witty, fast-paced script into a great evening’s entertainment.