Treasure Island

Tue 22nd November – Sat 3rd December 2011


Christian Clarkson

at 09:26 on 24th Nov 2011



In the fine tradition of Footlights Pantomimes, last night’s Treasure Island was an [apple] barrel of fun. Despite the frequently evident lack of a dress rehearsal, star performances from leading members of the cast and a talented chorus carried the show through its convoluted plot and kept the audience heartily entertained. When this production is more polished it will surely be a highlight of the Cambridge year.

Those familiar with the plot of Treasure Island might not have recognised it after its pantomime makeover, with new twists including the elimination of Blind Pew and his Black Spot and the introduction of a powerful magical artefact called ‘Poseidon’s Pearl’, the reuniting of both halves of which will give the bearer the powers of the sea-god. Finding both halves became a race against time with Jim Hawkins and his friends (including trusty Squire Trelawney the bombastic Nurse Penny Cillin and a human-sized parrot named Omlette) against Long John Silver and his dastardly crew. Exactly what happened at the denouement was unclear, but you will be relieved to know that good triumphed over evil.

Wang, Lawrence and Lennard’s adaptation was at times confusing in terms of relaying the plot (the last couple of minutes before the interval were entirely beyond me) but more than made up for this with the quality of the jokes. The ADC Footlights pantomime is renowned for its wit and this year’s offering was no exception, balancing classic panto dialogue with topical humour: Dame Nurse Penny Cillin’s entreaty that the audience call out ‘free healthcare’ as she magically healed her patients was followed by “well done, but we could have done with that attitude a few weeks ago!”. Some of the show’s funniest moments, however, came in the songs, where Wang and co.’s lyrics and Jeff Carpenter’s music were perfectly matched. Long John’s solo (primarily intended to emphatically establish his evil-ness) was one of the highlights of the evening, with lines including “My mother didn’t love me, my father made me cry / you can’t choose your parents but you can choose the day they die”.

The most memorable performances of the night came from the show’s comedy heavyweights, George Potts as Long John Silver and Andrew Brock as Nurse Penny Cillin. These two had the audience in the palms of their hands every time they were onstage, and managed to flawlessly ad-lib their way through any hitches. Jason Forbes’s Omlette also had some funny moments, though in general Forbes’s brand of awkwardness was a little subtle for the exaggerated arena of panto. Lucie Shorthouse and Rosa Robson (as Jim Hawkins and his paramour Eliza) were competent in their necessarily insipid leading roles, especially Robson whose ironically anti-feminist solo was another highlight. Congratulations are also in order to the chorus, whose excellent singing voices and startling agility injected high energy into every scene they entered.

All the ingredients were there for a marvellous panto. Where the performance fell down was in its technical elements, with the cast clearly suffering from a lack of familiarity with the costumes and set. Although the design of both was well-realised (the good ship Granola was very impressive and made good use of the restricted ADC stage) scene changes were messy and costume malfunctions frequent. There were also problems with the sound mixing that made it very difficult to hear some of the lyrics, which was distressing to those of us not wanting to miss a single joke. Backstage organisation as a whole seemed to be low - there was no excuse for Santa (yes, the man himself made an appearance!) to be missing some of the presents in his sack. On the up-side, the band was well-rehearsed and on point throughout the night.

As a whole, then, a panto with the potential to be a Christmas classic once the technical problems have been resolved. As the show is sold out I can’t advise you to rush to the box office, but I can tell all those with tickets to keep an eye on them!


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