Reviewed by Donald Madgwick for The Croydon Advertiser
There’s villainy afoot!
Children’s classic Treasure Island was Robert Louis Stevenson’s first published novel.
Willis Hall, whose stage adaptation can be seen at Coulsdon Youth and Social Centre over the weekend sees its origins in the writer’s sickly childhood.
His play opens and closes in the Stevenson bedroom, framing the exciting action in which young Robert becomes Jim Hawkins, associate of Long John Silver and his desperadoes.
The Theatre Workshop Coulsdon production directed with great gusto by Chris Argles (assisted by Stephanie Wilson) draws liberally on female players for male parts, with surprisingly effective results.
Kimberley Argles is the very spirit of sweetness and innocence as Jim, like a figure in a dream who is unexpectedly landed in the middle of a great adventure.
The quality too, are all female; Penny Simeone an impetuous Squire Trelawney on the trail of the treasure; Lesley Argles a blunt, outspoken Captain Smollett, displaying an unshakeable dignity in face of adversity; and Lisa King a graceful Doctor Livesey with a haughty aristocratic bearing.
These somewhat dandified travellers are boldly contrasted by a ruffianly crew, splendidly led by Richard Lloyd as Long John Silver.
Making light of the discomfort of playing an arduous role with one leg strapped behind him, he presents a fully rounded portrayal of a murderous dog with a redeeming charm and command of irony.
He is the very type of villain for whom Stevenson had a sneaking admiration, as he had for his later creation Mr Hyde.
The greatest strength of this production, which only flags to some degree towards the end, is its evocation of a roistering atmosphere, with full involvement from all the participants.
The sea shanties are rousingly rendered, and the musketry in the first stokade scene is almost too realistic for comfort.
Villany of an irredeemably despicable order is found in Tim Young’s sinister Israel Hands, and Pete Gregory is an entertaining Patrick O’Brian.
The hustle and bustle on board the Hispaniola is convincingly presented, as is most of the action on the beach.
And there must be a special word for Wendy Cole, a maid-of-all-work who not only plays a lively fiddle and acts as costume co-ordinator but also performs with charm as nurse Cunningham (in the bedroom scenes) and Mrs Hawkins.
Paul M Ford