In Prescot, just across the road from where Mate Productions were staging their outdoor production of Treasure Island, stands the site of the Shakespeare North Playhouse. Due to open in 2020, it celebrates the town’s links with Elizabethan drama and Shakespeare, and I can’t help feeling that the Bard himself would have very much approved of MATE’s version of Treasure Island, given his own tendency to select stories and make them work for him.

Thus, taking Treasure Island as an inspiration, rather than slavishly following the plot, the company have put together a fun family evening. There is always the tricky question of how to offer a sufficient range to keep the adults, the older children, and the little ones entertained. In this instance, the plot might be a tad convoluted for the youngest, and perhaps the violence – excellently choreographed sword fights and fisticuffs, and talk of hanging and a touch of potential eye gouging etc. – a bit dark, but children tend to be far more resilient than we give them credit for, and there is plenty for them to enjoy, including merchandise at pocket money prices, a talking puppet parrot, and the wittiest and most tuneful cheeses this side of New Brighton.

The main elements of the plot are clearly recognisable – as are the major characters, though not without some tweaking of gender, which allowed for a brief discussion on women’s place in society at the time the novel was written, and the misogyny of sailors in general, though it would take a very brave (or foolish) man indeed to argue with the swashbuckling sword swishing Shasha Dimitri (Holly Blue). But the characters were thoughtfully drawn and the actors played their parts with verve and panache. Long John Silver (Francesco La Rocca) was sufficiently charismatic to inspire and charm the young Jim (Clay Travis), who started suitably naïve and brave but developed as events unfolded. Captain Smollet (Lee Clotworthy) was posh and suspicious, Lady Trelawny (Casssie Richardson) posh and trusting, and Miss/Doctor Livesey (Cassie Richardson) well-meaning but out of touch. All the pirates were excellent, with Conor Burns as Israel Hands and Kristian Lawrence as Blind Pew particularly menacing. Kristian Lawrence reappeared later and instantly won over the audience in a star turn as the cheese-obsessed Ben Gunn (see above for singing cheeses).

Cultural references abound – I spotted Star Trek (Captain’s log) and Silence of the Lambs (liver with Chianti) but I’m sure there are more. The knowledge gap between the audience’s recognition and understanding of the pirates and their plot and the innocent good-hearted characters who fall for their deception provide both tension and humour. Indeed, many light touches had the audience laughing out loud. Production values are remarkably high, with excellent music/drumming and costumes adding significantly to the atmosphere and a flexible well thought out set that was quickly transformed from inn to ship and allowed the company to make the best use of the space available to them.

So while Shakespeare may have tightened up some of the scenes, he’d have very much enjoyed how the play rollicked along, the banter with the audience, the children dressed as pirates, the home made cakes at the interval, the singing and the dancing, and he’d have joined with the audience in giving the company some well-earned and very enthusiastic applause. The show will be travelling to further venues in the Merseyside region before heading up North to the Edinburgh Fringe. So get off the sofa, grab a picnic, and head out for a fine evening of piratical fun and frolics.

Reviewer: Johanna Roberts

Reviewed: 9th June 2018

North West End Rating: ★★★★