Treasure Island has a special meaning for us. Early on in our relationship in 2011, Nina and I watched a performance of the classic story on an outdoor stage constructed outside Bristol Old Vic while the theatre was being refurbished. We still have the ticket on our fridge.
The 18th century tale is significant for the city too. Only a few metres from Bristol Old Vic on King Street is The Llandoger Trow, the pub that is said to have been Robert Louis Stevenson’s inspiration for the Admiral Benbow.
Treasure Island by Le Navet Bete
This latest version of the coming of age pirate adventure is performed by Exeter-based theatre company Le Navet Bete, which roughly translates as ‘The Daft Turnip’. That silly name tells you a lot about what to expect from this production; laughs, puns, slapstick humour and audience participation.
Aimed at everyone seven and above, the show has a strong panto feel about it. At times, we almost expected to walk out into the foyer to be greeted by Christmas trees and mulled wine. But instead it was a muggy evening in July and hot drinks were not on the menu!
Like Stevenson’s original 1881 novel, the story centres on young Jack Hawkins who discovers a treasure map and sets off to find his fortune. But very much unlike the book, the teenager plays the classic game of Play Your Cards Right, complete with a cheesy, sparkly-jacket wearing host, to win ownership of the ship he needs for his adventure!
That is one of many hilarious moments in this show aimed firmly at families.
Le Navet Bete is made up of four actors – Al Dunn, Simon Burbage, Matt Freeman and Nick Bunt – who play all the characters in the show. We don’t want to give too much away but expect some classic cross dressing, a very memorable mermaid, a sinister captain with a fondness for fish fingers and some brilliant The Play That Goes Wrong-style scenery collapsing mishaps.
There’s a multitude of characters and some very quick costume changes which the quartet of actors perform seamlessly. All are superb but Matt Freeman stands out as a glamorous gameshow assistant, a flamboyant sailor and that mermaid!
There are plenty of proper laugh out loud moments. The kids in the theatre, many dressed as pirates, absolutely loved it. Us big kids really enjoyed it too with several chuckles caused by slightly some more adult gags that go over the youngsters’ heads.
The production also features some songs but they were a little hard to hear at times.
Overall though we loved this version of Treasure Island and we left with huge smiles on our faces. If you’re looking for a Bristol theatre family treat this summer, this is the show for you!
Treasure Island is at Bristol Old Vic until 30 July.
Top image credit: Matt Austin