It’s a Pirate’s Life For Me

The Chipstead Players present Treasure Island.

‘Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum.’

The famous rousing pirate chant is more reminiscent of a celebratory songs from sporting crowds, as an audience, delighted to be back at the Courtyard Theatre, took their seats with the famous shanty ringing in their ears. We were eagerly anticipating the Chipstead Player’s Youth Theatre production of Treasure Island. It’s been a long wait to see live theatre and this talented group of youngsters, – all clearly loving treading the boards did not disappoint.

Directed by Debra Elsdon – her sixth time for the players with able assistance from 19-year-old Bradley Adams. This is a good-humoured adaptation which still retains enough of the terror and darkness at the heart of Robert Louis Stephenson’s classic story.

The adventure begins in the Admiral Benbow inn, where we meet the young Jim Hawkins; the heart and soul of the story as well as its narrator. His imagination and wonder-lust is fired by Cap’n Bones (Amar Hammond-Reid in his debut role for the players) bold tales of maps, curses and adventure.

 Ronan O’Leary is perfectly cast as the innocent, wide-eyed Jim whose belief that the world is a fair and good place is about to be put to the test by his entanglement with pirates in the search for buried treasure. It may be a dark and thrilling tale but in essence, Treasure Island is a coming of age story.

The infamous anti-hero, Long John Silver is introduced to us through warnings from others.

“Look out for the one-legged man” says Cap’n Bones before he succumbs to the Black Spot. And by the time Samuel Norris as Silver, limps authoritatively onto stage ,capturing all his Machiavellian, manipulative charm, we, the audience are aware of Silver’s complexities and that he is a character best avoided.

After they both board the good ship Hispaniola to seek the hidden treasure. Hawkins as one of Squire Trelawney’s men; Silver masquerading as a cook. It isn’t difficult to see why Hawkins regards Silver as a father-figure. The on-stage chemistry between Norris and O’Leary is always believable. At times, I forgot that Norris is still a sixth-form student.

Silver acts as mentor and teacher to the adventure-craving Hawkins which must have made the subsequent betrayal; after Hawkins overhears Silver plotting, with his old crewmates, to kill all of the Squires men even more brutal. A pivotal moment as young Jim finds his courage and stands for what he believes is fair and just

The subsequent fight scenes between the pirates and the Squires men are brilliant. The young cast relishing the chance to brandish their swords with bloodcurdling yells and their footwork was worthy of a turn on Strictly.

The scene stealer is Charlie McCarthy’s tortured Benn Gunn, his comic turns exposing some harsher realities, money and greed corrupt. He is mesmerising and judging by the audience response, they agreed.   

The Chipstead Crew, Production and Stage managers did a brilliant job with props, lighting and set design. The smaller stage captures the claustrophobia and cramped conditions on board an 18th century ship and the lighting, the brilliant blue sky and claps of thunder resounding from the back of the theatre swirling the audience directly into the action with plenty of gasps of appreciation from those seated around me.

You feel the sea-salt spray on your face and lips and the rush of adventure Jim must have felt. It brought to mind another description of a ship; C.S Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader where the protagonists slowly become part of a painting.

There are great turns from all of the word-perfect young cast. Remarkably, they only had a mere 10 days to learn their scripts, practice sword-fighting and put this show on the road. It was seamless. Congratulations must go to all of the cast, crew and backstage volunteers. This was an entertaining show that remained true to the original novel.

It’s a pirate’s life for me.

If you haven’t visited the ‘little theatre in the Countryside’ check out one of the Chipstead Players upcoming productions.

Full details on the player’s website.

The Chipstead Players performed Treasure Island 8-11th September 2021.

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