Written by Ross Mackay
Directed by Jordan Blackwood
Rifling through the pages of a well-loved story: there’s nothing better, is there? Seeking fortunes, solving mysteries, standing toe-to-toe with Dark Lords, and saving distant lands – the storybook is a gateway of limitless potential, and for some, it’s a lifeline, a friend. And where the glitz and glamour of big-budget Christmas shows may dominate, tucked within the corner is Treasure Island at the Cumbernauld Theatre, Lanternhouse – an unassuming piece of evocative stage magic which unfurls itself with an honesty that captivates like few others.
Cumbernauld Theatre’s co-production with Visible Fiction understands the readers and the story-lovers in the audience and captures their passions through Ross Mackay’s passionate writing and Janis Hart’s visual design for the show. Spinning the tale into a mix of the original, and the story of a young Cumbernauld boy Robbie who takes a keen eye to Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckling tale of buccaneers and treachery, Treasure Island. Anxious about the school’s end-of-year musical performance the next day, this shy and sincere boy, played sympathetically by Anthony O’Neil, locks himself away from his father’s attempts to help and buries himself within the pages of his newly discovered favourite story.
Surpassing a surface-level fear of public singing – there’s a distinct and well-threaded ripple of understanding for those anxious-ridden audience members – young and old, who find their minds burning with an imagination which cannot be communicated. Initially humble, the large books and projections of Heart’s set become as clear a part of the story as any performance. Unfurling like a crinkled page, much of the production’s more intimate, and yes graphic, scenes utilise Katharine William’s lighting design to cast silhouetted ships and storms, island paradises, and the mutinous end of Silver’s crew.
Paced at shy of two hours Mackay’s storytelling is pitched to adapt the story without inflating unnecessary roles or forceful inclusions: it veers from the Panto environment, indeed outside of a reference to the festive period, Treasure Island is a year-round tale while benefits from the whimsy of the time of year. And that’s precisely the process Jordan Blackwood’s direction follows – that this tale could be shared at any moment.
Selling the production is the mixture of severity and sincerity everyone performs with their roles; these aren’t caricatures. A motley crew, Blackwood entrusts their limited cast with a multitude of roles and positions within the staging – not solely from a performance element as they double as stagehands and even the occasional round of puppeteering the captain’s parrot.
Be they fowl, captain, or Bru-induced drunkard – Stephanie MacGaraidh takes on tremendously variable roles with ease; even minor characters have a sliver of dimension to their one-time appearances. It enables MacGaraidh to remain unafraid to retain Captain Smollett’s strict doctrine of justice, taking the role as far as to skirt the edges as an obstacle to Hawkins in moments without pushing the character into an antagonistic role.
But if you want a villain, a ruthless and cutthroat rogue with a soupçon of charisma to fool even the wisest of seadogs – Harry Ward’s Long John Silver is neither brash nor leans heavily into the two-dimensional expectations of the pirate. Ward achieves the required balance of fatherly familiarity to O’Neil’s ‘Jim-Lad’ but possesses a stern sense of authority when they aren’t having a whale of a time on stage. And more importantly, the virile terror they can command with the production’s brave moments of cutthroat behaviour – channelled for younger audiences through Williams’ projections.
There may be a few Yo-Ho’s and plenty of treasure, but Mackay and Blackwood keep a degree of respectability through Treasure Island (save for a couple of comedic songs for the youngsters). Oguz Kaplangi’s composition ripples throughout with a sense of adrenaline and a calming serenity – almost ocean-like in its ability to flip between intensities. Sharing some stellar vocals with MacGaraidh and O’Neil, Megan McGuire continues the trend of portraying multiple roles from the bamboozled Trelawney to the villainous Israel Hands but displays a strong vocal and accompanying performance throughout, engaging in some robust sea-shanties with MacGaraidh and sword-fighting with O’Neil.
There’s an air surrounding the Cumbernauld Theatre and Visible Fictions’ Treasure Island which is missing from many other festive productions: humbleness.
It’s a persistent theme narratively and built within the structure of the show, which trusts audiences to fill out the gaps in the pages, to build the remainder of the ship, and to trust in their imagination. Treasure Island imbues a genuine sense of thought through its core story – of a young boy facing his anxieties and trepidations. Who finds his courage by escaping to a storybook world of wonder and adventure, locating the strength to tackle the day-to-day crippling apprehensions of reality. A perfect theatrical page-turner which closes the chapter on 2022 with a breath of hope and positivity for the new year, for new stories, and for new audiences.
A Perfect Theatrical Page-Turner
Treasure Island runs at Cumbernauld Theatre, The Lanternhouse until December 24th.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.