Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Thursday 29th May, 2014
Ivan Williamson’s new adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story does not skimp on adventure and incident. The cast of just five work hard to populate the stage with a host of characters – For the most part this works very well; there are just a couple of times when additional hats and/or wigs would have come in handy.
Narrated by a grown-up David Balfour (Jamie Laird, commanding our attention) we see his younger self thrust into a world of treachery, betrayal and derring-do, through which he has to find his way and discover his own courage and strength of character. Director Anna Fox employs a range of theatrical techniques to support the actors in their storytelling. For example, there is a graceful sequence of physical theatre when Davie is shipwrecked and has to swim his way to the surface. Effective use is made of puppetry (thanks to consultant Alan Bird) in which objects are animated to constitute the people they represent, e.g. a ship’s wheel and coils of rope become a ferryman. It’s imaginative work and like the best narrative theatre, engages the imagination of the audience to picture what is not (or cannot) be staged.
Simon Weir is splendid as dandified Jacobite rebel Alan Breck who forges an alliance with our young hero that becomes a fast friendship. It’s not quite Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins but there is an understanding between them that is rather touching.
Strong support comes from Christopher Anderton as evil uncle Ebenezer and Lesley Cook in a range of roles including the appropriately named Ransome, who pays a terrible price. Jamie Laird nips in and out of characters and narration but it’s so well-paced you’re always clear who he is at any given moment.
As young Davie, Stewart McChene is an appealing, sympathetic and boyish protagonist. Even though we know he survives to tell the tale and grows up to be Jamie Laird, you become engrossed in his adventures and hope he comes to no harm. I was with him all the way.
Richard Evans’s set is clever and versatile but at times it seems like it could do with a bigger space in which to move.
The energy and commitment of the cast – including some rousing renditions of auld Scottish hits of centuries ago – keep us going through some of the wordier passages as the characters take sides in the fight for the hearts and minds of Scotland. Perhaps Cameron and Salmond should break into swordplay rather than holding a comparatively dull and bloodless referendum…