Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes England: Treasure Island

The stylized parrot is trying to draw your eye away from the production...

So, I know of the last few weeks I’ve been talking about Stratford Upon Avon (with a brief interlude for some Fast and Furious action…) but I want to keep talking about the plays I saw while I was there. So, I’m going to the… let’s say least enjoyable? I’m going to go with least enjoyable… play that I saw while I was there. I’m actually going to do something a little bit different for this particular edition of Bad Shakespeare (Since I’ve been writing a LOT lately, and my little fingers need a rest) Yes, this trip was an educational one. I had to write seven papers about my experience. What follows is the critical review of one of the plays I saw while I was there. Yup. I turned this in. For a grade.

Ladies and Gentlemen, after weeks of joking about it, I present to you my review (as turned in to Rick Davis) of Treasure Island.

That Kiss. 

There is a lot to discuss in the most recent adaptation of Treasure Island currently playing  (note from the future: It's no longer playing) at The National Theatre. The show itself, a re-telling of the young adult classic adventure novel about the search for the treasure of Captain Flint, takes advantage of the National Theatre’s full technical capabilities. Sets frequently disappear beneath the stage, or rise to reveal the interior of the ship taken by young Jim Hawkins, her crew, and the pirate Long John Silver (Played by former Doctor Who Companion and guy who got to kiss Karen Gillian, Arthur Darvill. Lucky jerk.)as they search for the lost treasure. Lights appear in the sky to show off constellations. Ben is constantly diving under the stage through is own makeshift tunnels that he has dug throughout the island. 

That is not a typo, by the way, in this version “Jim” is played by a young woman, and is referred to as a young woman on the stage frequently, complete with a quickly glossed over backstory to explain why “Jim” is called “Jim”. Of course, that leads to one of the more unsettling moments that I am still trying to process.

That Kiss. 

Treasure Island is a story that is aimed at kids, and yes, this production certainly caters to that demographic. Jim moves to center stage to explain certain parts of the plot, there are a lot of colorful characters and members of the crew, even if they are dispatched as the plot requires, and the fight scenes, in a play mostly about pirates, is toned down. There is even a recurring gag in which Jim expresses a fear about the man with the one leg, the music gives a sharp note, the lights change, and all of the cast members share in a dramatic moment.

But then there’s that kiss…

As mentioned earlier, Treasure Island made a gender switch with Jim in this particular version. There are different ways it can affect the plot: discussions about whether a girl in the 1800’s should be traveling on a ship in search of gold. But as mentioned, a lot of it is glossed over, initially giving me the impression that the gender switch was done more for necessity - this was the best actress available - than to make a statement. This is fine, other characters, such as Doctor Livesly, a character that is traditionally played by a man is played by a woman in this case, but the gender switch isn’t commented upon. It was the production’s intention to mention Jim, in this case, was a girl. 

One of the subplots in other (better) versions in Treasure Island was the relationship between Long John Silver and Jim as Jim looks for a surrogate father in the wake of his own father’s death. This bonding does happen in this version, right up until it’s time to find the treasure. Then Long John Silver kisses Jim in what I can only say is a very uncomfortable moment, at least for me. That one kiss completely changes the whole subtext of that relationship, going from one of a father son to something a little more disturbing and sinister. No longer is Long John Silver a pirate who can be redeemed in some fashion, but now he’s more of a sinister predator. He can no longer be redeemed. He is course is set, so to speak. 

It is moments like this that cause the problems for this production of Treasure Island. Rather than rely on the set work, which is impressive, particularly in later moments during the search for the treasure, the choices of the actors to play the characters as broad caricatures of pirates rather than real people takes away from the emotional depth that should be inherent in the play, even one playing to such a wide audience.This kiss isn’t commented upon again, despite the fact that there is a brief moment of reaction. And it took me out of the play, completely. I was no longer invited into this world, which had been painstakingly constructed with a beautiful set. And then I was reminded that I was never invited by any of the characters to spend time in this world to begin with. That kiss was just the final reminder of that fact. 

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