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Treasure Island

4 starsReviewed by Richard Stamp
Underground Venues
Theatre
10 & 13-14 Jul 9pm to 10pm, 15 & 27 Jul 4pm to 5pm

This instantly-engaging one-man adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic is both an impressive feat of acting, and triumph of uncomplicated entertainment.  Alone on the stage, Jamie Robertson evokes all the characters in Stevenson’s free-spirited tale of heroism and villainy – with verbal and physical pictures so vivid you can almost sense the smell of the sea.  Subtle sound design and a masterfully-adapted script also contribute to a thoroughly engrossing production.

It isn’t easy to compress a full-length novel into an hour-long play, but Uproot Theatre have given Stevenson’s plot a commendably thoughtful edit.  While key events and characters remain intact, they’ve simplified a lot of the details – creating a story that cracks along at a satisfying pace, without ever feeling rushed or crowded.  The excisions enhance the work rather than diminishing it; the only visible join comes when protagonist Jim Hawkins re-takes the Hisplaniola, an episode which is left feeling almost incidental to the streamlined plot.

The production is pared-down too, and all the better for it.  Reflecting the young Jim’s lowly status, the only prop of note is a single mop, and it’s astonishing just how versatile such a simple device turns out to be.  It works because Robertson is an energetic, highly physical actor, who makes his small stage seem far larger than it really is yet still fills the space with apparent ease.  His characters are broadly-drawn – each evoked with a rubbery face and popping eyes – but Treasure Island lends itself to enjoyable caricature, and the fact the narrative’s relayed by the nervy Jim goes a long way towards justifying his relentlessly full-throttle approach.

Both script and actor also extract a lot of humour from Stevenson’s overblown scenario: there’s an entertaining knowingness to much of Robertson’s delivery, and the monologue’s spiced up by a sparing handful of well-judged anachronisms.  But, as befits a tale of childhood derring-do, it’s modestly stirring as well.  There’s one speech, from the impossibly heroic doctor, which contrives to be both entirely hilarious and genuinely inspiring too.

If there’s one thing I felt was missing, it’s just a tiny bit more darkness; Jim’s passage to adulthood shouldn’t be too easy, and the few moments of terror or horror on his journey felt rather under-sold.  Overall though, this is indeed a production to treasure, a smart and respectful adaptation of a much-loved story.  And the messages it leaves behind are refreshingly simple ones: the thrill of adventure, the lure of the sea, and the worth beyond gold of a few honest friends.

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About the Buxton Fringe

The Buxton Fringe 2014 runs from 9 to 27 July in the town of Buxton, Derbyshire. 

It's easy to find your way around this friendly Festival, with most venues within a stone's throw of the town centre.  For more information on the Peak District's own Fringe, check out the official website.

Buxton Fringe online >>