Review: National Theatre Live: Treasure Island

Mystery, murder and mutineers; this adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel combines them all into a fun and frightening adventure across the seas.

The plot follows Jim Hawkins (Patsy Ferran), a poor innkeeper’s granddaughter who is pulled into the adventure by a mysterious visitor who’s only possession appears to be a treasure chest. When a treasure map is discovered, what else is there to do but go in search of it? Along the way, Jim learns loyalty, trust and friendship.


Patsy Ferran’s Jim is fantastic, mixing both the wide-eyed enthusiasm and innocence of a child, with the bravery and strong-will of a hero. Characters such as the Grandma (Gillian Hanna) and Squire Trelawney (Nick Fletcher) add a comedic levity to scenes which would otherwise be frightening, as does the frequently overlooked Grey (Tim Samuels) who becomes an unlikely hero.

Joshua James’ Ben Gunn was amazing and was quickly a favourite with the audience. Although not entirely in his right mind, he proved that he was still witty and clever. However, it is Arthur Darvill’s Long John Silver that rivals Patsy Ferran for the best performance. Even though audiences know not to trust him, you cannot help but be endeared by his character, only to reveal his true Pirate nature in the second half.


As fantastic as they were, what that stole the show was not any of the performances, but the set design. The attention to detail was astounding. By using rising pieces of stage, the beginning inn scene was already magical, and it’s truly beautiful when the stage transforms into an actual ship. Part of the stage rose into three levels, dissecting the ship and giving the audience a chance to see what happens aboard; from the Captain arguing with the Squire and Doctor about the map on the upper level, to Long John Silver and Jim working in depths. By rotating the stage, it becomes the mysterious underground tunnels Ben Gunn hid in. The attention to detail was astounding.

As director Polly Findlay points out, the ceiling was changed into a starry night sky, which the cameras paid special attention to throughout. The live shanty singing by Roger Wilson and the sometime overpowering sound of the waves and storm complimented the atmospheric setting, and the live music added a nice touch.


The decision to have a few of the characters, including the protagonist, played by women is fascinating. According to playwright Byrony Lavery, this was important because had they kept to the original there would only be one woman in the entirety of the story (the mother). These small changes allowed for more comedic moments to be added into the script, such as confusion over whether Jim was in fact a boy or girl, and also shows that adventuring is not just for boys.

Watching Treasure Island, it’s obvious how much of what we now traditionally think of as ‘Pirates’ has come from Stevenson’s vision. Although mostly good viewing for all ages, some of the scenes were quite gory and possibly distressing to some children which emphasised how grown up the story actually is. Overall the performance was fantastic, bringing home the traditional message that being honest and true will triumph over any evil, while still having some twists and turns to keep it interesting. It is perfect viewing for those wanting a thrilling adventure.


Abigail Houseman

Click here for more of the latest Film Reviews

Let us know your thoughts on Black Sea via Facebook and Twitter, or leave a comment. 

ArtsArts Reviews

Leave a Reply