A CHRISTMAS TREASURE ISLAND

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A CHRISTMAS TREASURE ISLAND at HULL TRUCK THEATRE

A festive treat for all the family, “A Christmas Treasure Island” suavely swipes the best elements of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” classic, ushering the swashbuckling story into the modern age with the most seasonal of twists.

Young Jem Hawkins (played perfectly by Annabel Betts) is feeling left out by her family, not least because a baby girl has just been born into the family. Seeking refuge on the beach closest to where she lives, she encounters her mother’s brother, Uncle David (Jack Lord), a bona fide man of the world. Before it’s possible to utter “Shiver me timbers,” Jem and Uncle David are whisked into a breathtaking adventure that will change both of their lives forever.

Duly stumbling upon a treasure map, they’re doggedly pursued by a ragtag band of pirates, led by the dastardly Long John Silver, charismatically brought to life by Laurie Jamieson.

Using her cunning, Jem sees sense in pooling their strengths. She needs the use of a boat and a time-served crew for a start, hence why she dares to “trust” Long John Silver to help her get a little closer to the treasure. Setting sail together, they initially get along, only for Long John Silver to betray Jem.

Ciaran Bagnall’s life-size “boat set” literally works wonders, revolving spectacularly whenever pushed by various crew in order to simulate movement on the high seas. Sailing north towards the Arctic, Jem finds herself alone, marooned along with the strange yet eminently trustable Ben Gunn (Louise Shuttleworth). Joining forces to comedic effect, Jem and Ben find allies in one another, both of them outcasts.

Teeming with songs as quirky as they are catchy, the story progresses at a cracking pace, the incidental music creating even more atmosphere in moments of extreme tension, especially when a huge storm breaks, tossing the boat into turmoil, the set “rocking” back and forth to stunning effect.

The greatest strength of “A Christmas Treasure Island” comes in the way that it balances moments of genuine, heart-rending poignancy with outrageously funny moments of unadulterated silliness. Rare indeed is the kind of production that can reduce men, women and children from tears of merriment to sadness – and then back again – in an astonishingly short space of time, but “ACTI” triumphs from beginning to end, Debbie Oates (who has adapted the “Treasure Island” story so well as to make it her own) as much to thank as play director Mark Babych.

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All of the songs are original, performed by the cast and composed by John Biddle, and they help to elevate the play to ever-more satisfying heights. Given the gorgeously designed set and collective talent of the cast, you could easily be forgiven for believing yourself to be in the West End whilst watching “A Christmas Treasure Island.” The second half is even funnier than the first, the “guest appearance” of a yeti prompting the heartiest belly-laughs from young and old alike.

We all know that, year-on-year, there is less and less on TV at this time of year, so do yourselves a favour, and get along to Hull Truck without delay. With a staggering array of matinee and evening performances to choose from, there’s no excuse not to catch what can only be described as “sheer magic.”

Visit www.hulltruck.co.uk for more information and tickets

(Steve Rudd)

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