Bristol is always well served in its Christmas theatrical offerings but the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School have found their own niche in the market with their large scale ensemble works of the classics of children literature. Recent shows have included Alice In Wonderland and A Lion, A Witch And A Wardrobe but stories rarely come more rollicking than Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island and this years graduating students play it to maximum effect in a constantly riotous and always enjoyable Christmas treat.
For those who have never read the book or watched a Muppets Treasure Island, Stephenson’s follows young Jim Hawkins (Rudolphe Mdlongwa) and his coming of age adventure on board The Hispaniola and then a search for buried treasure ,with a whole host of larger than life characters, particularly the dominating villainous Long John Silver, here given both a gender swap and a performance of real dash and definition by the big voiced and charismatic Verity Blyth. She has the style down pat, a heightened level of awareness that never strays quite into panto but always on top of its slightly ridiculous and campy quality.
Normally by the end of the academic year the school has produced graduating actors of top calibre ready to tackle the turbulent industry head on, but this years group already seem especially strong. Philip Monks adaptation makes the tale a real ensemble piece and each of the students grabs their moment to shine. Alongside Blyth’s show-stealing work Mdlongwa makes an endearing hero, a boyish smiling inn boy who grows into a man through his adventures. Georgia Frost, a particularly memorable Bottom earlier this year in the second year tour, proves she has real deal comic chops as a thick as a plank of wood pirate while Harley Viveash provides early chills a Blind Pew whose black spot warning to an inn resident sets the whole plot in motion. There is also particularly strong work from the very tall, very pretty Rachel Partington as a Mrs Hawkins who has set her sights on a higher social standing with her flirtations with Euan Shanahan’s likeable Squire John Trelawney.
Jenny Stephens production does lose some steam in the second half, undoubtedly affected by the small grey crowd for this Wednesday matinee that didn’t really want to engage in the slightly forced crowd interactions. Yet for those who are looking for an alternative Christmas adventure the Redgrave Theatre and its host of pirates and heroic derring-do is the place to be.