Jon Chamberlain reviews Treasure Island at Bristol Old Vic, running 19-30 July 2022

The multi-award-winning theatre company Le Navet Bete have brought their smash-hit version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s legendary tale to Bristol Old Vic Theatre this July with songs, set pieces and an abundance of visual surprises.

The cast of Treasure Island at Bristol Old Vic

Image - the cast of Treasure Island at Bristol Old Vic (credit: Mark Dawson Photography)

Laced with a whole host of contemporary comedic twists, including an unusual motley crew of pirates, a parrot called Alexa (straight from the Amazon), a certain white bearded fish finger tycoon and a mermaid we’re sure you’ll never forget, this is Treasure Island you’ve never seen it before. 

Al Dunn, Simon Burbage, Matt Freeman and Nick Bunt make up the quartet of talent that is Le Navet Bete, the Exeter-based company who never miss the mark. The latest of their productions to tour into Bristol fits perfectly into the Old City. Bristol features in the original novel and there is a Treasure Island Trail that takes you straight past the theatre itself; a great excuse to spend a couple of hours exploring the city and learning about the story before you experience the show.

Treasure Island at Bristol Old Vic

Image - All aboard the Jolly Todger in Treasure Island at Bristol Old Vic (credit: Mark Dawson Photography)

The expectation in the theatre was high. Previous touring productions have included The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure which came to the theatre last year and was a smash hit. Treasure Island surpassed even that. My companion and I were in stitches throughout. Perfectly pitched comedy laces its way through a storyline that always retains a sideways glance to Stevenson’s work, even when it involves some much more contemporary cultural references. A conversation between the mermaid and Jim-lad where she questioned why it was up to her to give up a life in the sea, rather than the man giving up his land legs, got a big cheer with the Bristol audience.

The Bristol-based co-writer and director, John Nicholson, said “Le Navet Bete have an inimitable flair for multi character work and also a love for bonkers story-telling. Treasure Island is an epic, escapist, coming of age adventure. It’s a big story, so theatrical adaptations tend to employ sizeable casts. This adaptation however is written for a cast of four actors, who seamlessly transition between 26 characters – so it’s certainly epic backstage!”

Nick Bunt playing Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island at Bristol Old Vic

Image - Nick Bunt as Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island at Bristol Old Vic (credit: Mark Dawson Photography)

Nick Bunt from Le Navet Bete, who plays Jim Hawkins, adds:
“Treasure Island is told from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old boy who has to rely on his wits when he’s cast into a world of adults. He has to navigate who to trust and who to trick. To this end, although we’ve streamlined the character list, we’ve also taken the liberty of including two pivotal characters that Robert Louis Stevenson chose to omit from his original. Or possibly we just invented them. Stevenson’s timeless novel gets pretty graphic in places - murder on the high seas and all that. We were keen not to sanitise these more lurid aspects of the book. We wanted to keep the stakes high, the betrayals wretched, and the danger to life ever-present. We also wanted to create characters who were as funny and playful as they were ruthless, as deliciously Machiavellian as they were ridiculous. And finally, we wanted a significant female character - this is a coming-of-age story, after all. This is Treasure Island with its heart on its sleeve and its head in a blender. We hope you enjoy the production!”

Treasure Island is at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday 30 July and in our opinion is absolutely not to be missed this #SummerInBristol. Walk the trail, grab some pre-theatre food and drink in the foyer (the new small plate menu is a delight) and have a brilliant family night out – you won’t regret it – but bring tissues as there will be tears (of laughter, of course).

Treasure Island is suitable for ages 7+ and their families. Book Tickets here.

Matt Freeman at Blue Peter in Treasure Island at Bristol Old Vic
Image - Matt Freeman as Blue Peter in Treasure Island at Bristol Old Vic (credit: Mark Dawson Photography)

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