Fringe Online 2020
Directed by Polly Findlay, designed by Lizzie Clachan, with Bruno Poet’s smoky lighting. Music and Songs are by Dan Jones with additional Songs by John Tams. Fight Director’s Bret Yount, Movement Director Jack Murphy, Illusionist Chris Fisher, Comedy Consultant Clive Mendus and Creative Associate Caroline Valdés.
Director for Screen’s Tim van Someren with Technical Producer Christopher C. Bretnall. Lighting Director Bernie Davis tries to remain faithful to the tenebrous brilliance of the original, and it’s potentially tricky on smaller screens – for which this early 2015 production wasn’t designed, beamed live to cinemas.
Sound Supervisor’s Conrad Fletcher – there’s no trouble with the whoosh of excitement and clarity here from the original. Assistant Director’s Laura Vallis. Till April 23rd.
The third NT Live AT Home offering is another adaptation, also 19th century, but as different to Jane Eyre as you’d imagine.
A zesty starry arc with a whirl of the Olivier’s wheel. It’s rather a dark swirl but Ferran shines as Jim (her full name we learn right at the end): the bright-as-paint cabin girl in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
Adapted by Bryony Lavery with a re-gendering to make it accessible to all as well as all ages (well above ten), this 1881 tale comes up fresh as paint too.
It’s a large cast with no doubling in Polly Findlay’s swift direction around Lizzie Clachan’s wonderfully inventive Olivier set which spins like a sextant from inn to ship to island with the drum revolve rising twice: first with a gleam of cabin lights below masts, and finally to reveal a network of tunnels. They’re known to none but cabin boy castaway Tom Gunn erupting from primal mud – and Jim. You need your sea-legs, even sitting at home glued to that fifth wall.
There’s more too, though often shrouded: mighty framing ribs suggest the ship; and finally a land mass like the ribs of the clue itself expose the heart of the matter.
You might sometimes need anachronistic x-ray specs to pierce the murk. With the live show it’s atmospherically murky and Bruno Poet’s wonderful star effect is possibly the most sheerly magical thing of all. Elsewhere it’s as if the then newly-created Wanamaker had burnt a year’s supply of tallow candles and snuffed them out every ten seconds. The cast too haul up and down sets, like storytelling blocks in a travelling troupe – platinum-tipped.
‘Be you boy or be you girl?’ ‘That be my business.’ Ferran’s fixed beadily from the start and never lets up. Lavery’s shifted characters around a bit, not just genders, but ages, and Joshua James’s now adolescent Gunn is one of the revelations – like Patsy Ferran he’s gone on to some starry roles. Some characters Stevenson redeems are dispatched here, and naturally Lavery streamlines and renames her cast.
What’s perhaps missing too is the depth of ambiguous humanity Long John Silver bestows – we only get the show of it here, as he teaches Jim to navigate. In the original he’s actually less villainous towards Jim, and his fate’s different. It’s 100 minutes with an interval, but even so is it necessary to polarize everything so starkly? Stevenson deserves better in that way from an otherwise superb rendering.
Arthur Darvill’s Long John Silver is all sinewy charm and snake-oil with flashes of treachery. He’d fare well with Jack Sparrow. You’ll sometimes notice Ben Thompson as his Parrot.
It’s candlelit, tallow-bright and murky – impressively paced to draw everyone in too. Ferran’s Jim Hawkins forages round the Admiral Benbow inn for Gillian Hanna’s Grandma, both empty stomachs whilst Aidan Kelly’s surly villainous drunk Bill Bones commands lodging bringing troubles with a clatter, all seeking Captain Flint’s chest with its map: Daniel Coonan’s Black Dog and an impressive showing (including makeup of blasted eyes) from David Sterne’s sulphurous Blind Pew who here gets skewered by pirates rather than tramped on by king’s men – a luxury not even the NT can afford. Stevenson’s brilliance in making maimed men the most evil is one of those chiaroscuro elements he draws – sheer against type and expectations.
It’s at this point too Roger Wilson’s Shanty Singer appears leading the first of Dan Jones’ atmospherically rough-cast songs with more by John Tams.
Alexandra Maher’s quick, rational but compassionate Dr Livesey contrasts nimbleness with buffoonery visited on bewigged Squire Trelawney – Nick Fletcher’s not only the garrulous trusting squire but Voice of Silver’s Parrot too. Lavery draws on an even more subversive vein than Stevenson by guying Trelawney, even more a booby than most squires.
It’s wildly improbable if you pause a second, Trelawney overruling gruff Captain Smollett (Paul Dodds) whose ship he hires to take them to the island, and we’re infested with pirates. Trelawney’s men and women are no match yet: Heather Dutton’s perpetually hungry Red Ruth, Lena Kaur’s Silent Sue who finds an unearthly voice in inconsolable grief, Claire-Louise Cordwell’s Joan the Goat and Tim Samuels’ Grey, garbed in grey: whom no-one notices till Jim does. Samuels is a stand-out, greying speech until you realize he speaks home.
Of pirates, there’s vivid caricatures: Raj Bajaj’s stiletto-ish Job Anderson, Alastair Parker’s mountainous would-be-murderer of Jim – Killigrew the Kind (oh, and a disloyal drunk); Jonathan Livingstone’s larky Lucky Mickey, Oliver Birch’s repining but ambitious George Badger and David Langham’s Dick the Dandy are effective 2D villains with catch-phrases. Angela De Castro’s Israel Hands concealing she speaks English enjoys one of the better-delineated roles, going out with a bang.
Lavery’s way with abandoned cheese-dreaming half-mad Ben Gunn allows James a Caliban-ish avatar, bandanna’d in canary yellow streaked round his eyes and upper face: born from the mud like a 16th century monster. James all judder and flinch throws different voices of himself at himself.
It’s an inspired treat to make Gunn much younger too, and here’s one of Lavery darker elements submerged to an extent for children. Silver’s used identical blandishments like ‘smart as paint’ for cabin-boy Ben Gunn as for cabin-boy Jim Hawkins. Children will get betrayal and something of what adults see: grooming. It’s a chill message deftly achieved. Stevenson’s more complex characters like Silver are thrust from sympathy, but this theatre throws enough shadows for the moment.
Superb entertainment, though perhaps children are more sophisticated, more open to ambivalence than we credit. No matter: this is first-rate theatre, drawing sharp characters and drama from Stevenson’s always vivid storytelling.
There’s strong support from Livesey and Fletcher, and the memorable Samuels. And in James and above all Ferran, we see stars rising quicker than Darvill’s superb Silver can point them out.