BREVIEW: Treasure Island @ REP – running until 07.01.17

Treasure Island @ REP, Birmingham / Pete Le May




Words by Helen Knott / Pics by Pete Le May

Robert Louis Stevenson described his book Treasure Island as, ‘a story for boys; no need of psychology or fine writing’. It’s an outlook typical of its time, and the resulting story is a lively and charming Victorian coming-of-age adventure.Treasure Island @ REP, Birmingham / Pete Le May

So how then, to create a production that captures the spirit of the original while appealing to a modern Birmingham REP family audience? This particular adaptation is written by the highly respected playwright Bryony Lavery. Lavery has taken a feminist slant on Treasure Island, with the protagonist Jim and a number of other main characters played by women.

Jim being played by a girl rather than a boy makes less difference than you might think. You just immediately accept it; in fact, the play mentions it more times that it really needs to. As Jim says when continually asked about her gender in the first act: “That be my business”.

Apart from its use of gender, Lavery’s stage adaptation doesn’t stray too far from Stevenson’s book. This isn’t always a good thing. For example, on a number of occasions Jim steps out of a scene to take on the role of narrator, describing the action as if the character is still in the novel. These narrative passages are never insightful or necessary; the audience, even with children in it, should be trusted to understand what’s happening on stage.

Treasure Island @ REP, Birmingham / Pete Le MayAnother issue is the pacing. This is a long play – three hours including the interval. Too much time is spent on exposition in the first act, which takes place at Jim’s inn and features a succession of mumbling characters having dull exchanges. Unfortunately it’s symptomatic of the rest of the production; it lacks drama and tension. There are some loud bangs that make you jump and some gruesome injuries that make you recoil, but there are no real moments of wonder.

Directed by Philip Breen, this production of Treasure Island works best when it’s concentrating on being fun – utilising the cast’s musical talents in the songs or using the REP’s floor for some neat visual tricks.

There are some nice comic performances too: Dave Fishley, who plays the sailor Gray, steals all of the scenes he’s in. Gray’s running joke is that he is so dull that he’s continually forgotten by his crewmates, though of course it works to his advantage in the end. And Thomas Pickles’ off-kilter, Gollum-inspired performance as Ben Gunn is the highlight of the second half.

Sometimes, however, the more serious elements of the show, such as the numerous, sometimes quite unpleasant deaths, are played too much for laughs. I’m not expecting a Tarantino-style dark atmosphere to a family Christmas show, but there needs to be some feeling of jeopardy. The parrot, Captain Flint, is probably the scariest character in the production and he’s a puppet.

Emotions too are downplayed and oversimplified. Jim and ‘Long John’ Silver’s ambiguous relationship should be at the heart of the play, but it isn’t given the stage time to develop. Consequently, the inevitable betrayal lacks emotional punch.Treasure Island @ REP, Birmingham / Pete Le May

Perhaps I’m just not invested enough because I didn’t read the book as a child. The lady sitting next to me did and we discuss the differences between the play and the book in the interval. “I would have liked this new version when I was a girl”, she says.

So if the girls in the audience watch this Treasure Island and feel inspired by an adventurous, outgoing role model then I’ll happily forgive what is a fun, but ultimately unsatisfying, production. 

Treasure Island runs at the Birmingham REP from 25th November 2016 to 7th January 2017. For direct event information, including performance times and online tickets sales, click here.

For more from the Birmingham REP, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit


BPREVIEW: Séance @ Centenary Square 18-29.10.16

Séance @ Centenary Square 18-29.10.16 / Pic of Medium Eva Carrière taken from the book Phenomena of Materialisation – first published by Baron Von Schrenck-Notzing (1913)

Words by Ed King / Lead pic of Medium Eva Carrière taken from the book Phenomena of Materialisation – first published by Baron Von Schrenck-Notzing (1913)

On Tuesday 18th October, Séance comes to Birmingham – held inside a shipping container based set on Centenary Square.main-with-web-colour-bcg-lr

Running until Saturday 29th October, Séance will hold thirteen (but of course) shows every day except the Lord’s Day – each one served up as ‘a 15 minute presentation in total darkness’, between 5pm and 9.45pm.

Tickets are priced at £8 and available through the REP Theatre. For direct event information & ticket sales you can call the REP Box Office on 0121 236 4455 or visit

Séance carries an ‘age recommendation’ of 18+

The latest piece of immersive theatre from David Rosenberg & Glen Neath, along with producer Andrea Salazar, Séance is the first show from Darkfield – a company that uses shipping container based sets to present ‘a series of irrational spaces that are at odds with their physical appearance’.

Previously showcased at this years’ Deralict Contemporary Performance & Live Arts Festival in Preston, and the Overtly Young, Wealthy & Substance Guzzling Latitude Festival in Suffolk, Séance makes its non festival debut in Birmingham on Tuesday 18th October.

rep-logo-transDescribed by The Guardian’s theatre critic, Lyn Gardner, as ‘Rosenberg and Neath’s best collaboration to date’, Séance is the third ‘total darkness’ theatre piece from the sensory depriving duo that brought you Ring and Fiction – this time using the isolated setting of a shipping container to set their stage.

No doubt evolving the idea from The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face, another shipping container based show that Shunt – Rosenberg’s ‘London based performance collective’ – launched in 2014, Séance is seemingly clearer in focus. It’s meant to scare you, whilst manipulating the power of superstition and suggestive empathy. Like a séance.

And as with both Ring and Fiction, Séance is led by a central protagonist whilst the audience members fill in the creative blanks with their own sensory deprived minds. This time it’s Tom Lyall, another Shunt founder and a man with a Twitter feed so restrained and funny I want to use it as wallpaper. But in such a literally confined performance space, with only 20 audience members at any one show, I have a spooky feeling Séance’s narrative will be a lot more… immediate.

Having toe dipped into the pitch black shenanigans of Fiction when it came to mac a couple of years ago (read my Birmingham Review of Fiction here) I can vouch for the darkness of a Messers Rosenberg & Neath production. But I’d be interested to see (or not see) what shakes its way to the surface when their creative mandate is as simple as fear. Although I do suffer from chronic claustrophobia and violent outbursts of panic… is there a form I can fill out? It’ll be fine.the-exorcist-text-webcol-crop

Séance is a standalone theatre production, but runs as an arguable precursor to The Exorcist – the UK’s stage set première of Blatty’s 1971 horror stalwart, opening at the REP on Friday 21st October. For more on The Exorcist at the REP, click here.

Séance runs in Birmingham from 18th – 29th October, held in a special shipping container based set in Centenary Square. For direct info & online ticket sales, visit

For more on Darkfield, the production company behind Séance, visit

For more from the Birmingham REP, visit