Under the deft direction of Mike Taylor, a leafy glade in Trinity College Gardens becomes the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s rollicking tale of pirates, parrots and pieces of eight.
Erica Gouviea's Jemima 'Jim' Hawkins' quiet world at the Admiral Benbow Inn is turned upside down by the arrival of Captain Billy Bones and his mysterious pirate chest. When tragedy strikes, Jim finds herself appointed 'cabin boy, er, girl' on the good ship Hispaniola, accompanied by handy treasure map and a motley crew thirsting for grog and gold.
There is much to enjoy about the Oxford Theatre Guild’s spirited production. Particularly successful are the ensemble scenes, where the actors relish the opportunity for physical comedy and the banter of Bryony Lavery’s script. Jonny Liron holds the audience rapt as the treacherously pleasant (or pleasantly treacherous?) Long John Silver. Special mention must also go to David Guthrie as the marvellously expressive Doctor Livesey, while Gavin Gaughan plays the terminally overlooked pirate Grey with fine comic understatement. Tobias Forbes is a fine captain of the Hispaniola (and has clearly attended the General Melchett School of Shouting).
Outdoor theatre can be demanding on the voice, and a central Oxford setting requires an even higher level of vocal projection. The cast do their best, though there is clearly much for them to contend with here – traffic, the odd helicopter, and the relentless sprinkler system on Trinity lawns. Not entirely out of place were the drunken roars from the direction of the King’s Arms – perhaps pub-goers could be asked to shout 'Grog!' to enhance the piratical atmosphere?
Some wonderful design touches include a versatile adventure playground-style set – including an accommodating person-sized grandfather clock. Some nicely choreographed stage combat ramps up the action sequences, while sound designer Tom Parfitt has worked hard to ensure his excellent effects enhance the production without becoming obtrusive. The use of puppets adds an interesting visual touch – also neatly resolving the conundrum of where to find a loquacious parrot willing to work for peanuts.
A most enjoyable evening, Treasure Island is a welcome addition to Oxford’s open-air theatre scene.