Brighton Fringe 2012
Not, Treasure Island is the second installment from the talented Sleeping Trees Theatre.
Join Jim and countless other charaters (played by just three actors) as he takes the audiance on a hilarious adventure across the seven seas and beyond.
‘In a small performance space at the Quadrant, there be a hidden treasure, it’s true. A treasure forged from adventure and humour, clowning and playfulness all the way through. It doesn’t cost a penny, a leg or a golden nugget. But be sure to see it because every pirate dug it.’
With not one parrot or starfish, not one golden doubloon or grain of sand present the small stage upstairs at the quadrant is bare. The audience however is made up of (fancy dress) pirates. The audience for this three-man show is mixed, enthusiastic and excited to see what is going to present itself onstage from the space behind the curtain. The three performers start the show by acknowledging they are in a performance and setting up their reveal with an offstage introduction; "The map says it’s behind this curtain’," they call in a mighty pirate twang. Three Pirates, all with different physicalities, squints, beards and the obligatory pirate accents stand before us. They introduce the story with a short rhyme.
Billy Bones played by the brilliant John Woodburn has a squint and a husky voice. A caricature of what we might have imagined and Long John Silver played by Joshua George Smith whose presence demands the (small) stage. Along with James Dunnell Smith as the unfortunate Captain Smollet. They set up the story with such hilarity, just a taste of what was to ensue. With a hook (finger) becoming a sword and a (mimed) treasure chest so heavy it nearly causes the veins in the faces of the performers to explode, the scene is set.
With a boisterous confidence and obvious performance skill The Sleeping Trees grab the audience’s attention and imagination as though a buxom wench being dragged (without any hesitation) aboard their hilarious galleon. As we set sail to distant islands with burning hot coals, cannibals, icy glaciers and mermen we are introduced to our (slightly camp) hero of the tale.
‘Jimmy Jim Jim’ is played by a hilarious James Dunnell-Smith. His character is not quite oozing the masculinity of a typical bearded pirate, instead he is a mix between the stereotyped ‘Jim Hawkins’ of Jim Henson’s ‘Muppet Treasure Island’ and a flouncy, frilled silk shirt wearing camp cabin boy! He acts as a narrator of the tale. Often directing asides to the audience (as they cry with laughter), the story is pulled along by the cast’s (exhausting) physicality’s as they move from character to character. Just when you think the show might lose its way to the very thing that gives it charm, its humour, another character is introduced to move the story forward: Blind Pete (one of my favourites).
There is no fancy lighting, nor is there any need for expensive sets or props here. Not dressed in hugely elaborate costume, these three pirates have chosen the more understated dress up. A somewhat thrown-together skinny black jeans, bandanas and shirt choice of costume only adds to the endearing quality of the Sleeping Trees. It is as though three of the costume clad audience members (including friends of the company) have jumped on board.
The production value makes Not, Tresure Island hard to categorise with a rating. The writing, the physicality and performance skills of the actors is some of the best at the festival this year. It is full of childish charm as well as adult inuendos.
These three brilliant storytellers steer their ship with great physical control, well-choreographed transitions and instant character changes. The performance has an air of stand up about it, a feeling of improvisation and unexpected surprises for both actors and audience members.
Giving an honesty to what makes the story book characters tick and come to life, the Sleeping Trees have a non-pretentious or self-indulgent performing style. There is no reliance on props as the performers become Fire, talking squids and mermen. Just as there is no hesitation in adding an (extended) kiss scene. Not, Treasure Island becomes more than a performance. It becomes an experience, we join Jim’s hapless crew as the actors wait for responses from the audience, wait for the laughter before walking the plank into a sea full of mischief and nautical shenanigans.
To add expensive set, costume or props would take away from this show. My only suggestions to make the show 5* might be to approach a musical soundscore; to give the show an extra lift, add more atmospher and the slight finish to what is already a wonderful piece of theatre.
If you are heading to Edinburgh Fringe, I would make it one of the top shows on your list.