Treasure Island – Pirates arrive at the Birmingham Rep

Firstly, I’d like to point out that this was not quite what I expected when I arrived at the Birmingham Rep to review this year’s seasonal offering, Treasure Island. I was expecting a rip roaring yarn featuring cartoon pirates, a stage glistening with gold and treasure and ‘x’ marks the spot. In short, I was expecting a panto version of the Robert Louis Stephenson classic. What I actually got was a deliciously dark pirate and treasure story, with a healthy smattering of girl power that the Spice Girls themselves would’ve been proud of. In short, it’s a real festive treat, albeit one with not a hint of Christmas.

Treasure Island by Bryony Lavery, The Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 25 Nov 2016 - 7 Jan 2017. Cast: Pete Ashmore; Greg Coulson; Andrea Davy; Anni Domingo; Ru Hamilton; Dave Fishley; Michael Hodgson; Kaitlin Howard; Sian Howard; Andrew Langtree; Sarah Middleton; Tonderai Munyevv; Suzanne Nixon; Daniel Norford; Dan Poole; Thomas Pickles; Nicholas Prasad; Barnaby Southgate. Directed by Phillip Breen. Designed by Mark Bailey.

Photo credit: Pete Le May.

If you love the original story, all the elements all there. We have the Admiral Benbow Inn as our starting point, A trio of pirates arriving at the Inn all looking for the same thing, Captain Flint’s treasure, the local Doctor finds the map showing the treasure is on an island, and with the local Squire and the Innkeeper’s granddaughter Jim Hawkins, decides to find the treasure, enlisting a local captain with a ship, the Hispanola. But the rest of the crew they enlist are of a decidedly shadowy nature, and what of the ship’s one legged cook, Long John Silver? It seems the crew may be intent on taking that treasure for themselves.

Treasure Island by Bryony Lavery, The Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 25 Nov 2016 - 7 Jan 2017. Cast: Pete Ashmore; Greg Coulson; Andrea Davy; Anni Domingo; Ru Hamilton; Dave Fishley; Michael Hodgson; Kaitlin Howard; Sian Howard; Andrew Langtree; Sarah Middleton; Tonderai Munyevv; Suzanne Nixon; Daniel Norford; Dan Poole; Thomas Pickles; Nicholas Prasad; Barnaby Southgate. Directed by Phillip Breen. Designed by Mark Bailey.

Treasure Island by Bryony Lavery,

Photo credit: Pete Le May.

The whole cast is uniformly excellent, with Sarah Middleton excelling as a bright and feisty Jim (who just happens to be a girl in this version.). She is perfect foil for the menacing, but still quite charming and likeable Long John Silver (Michael Hodgson) who you sort of feel should get a break from the idiots who surround him. Sian Howard is also great as Dr Livesey, another strong female role and the moral conscience of the play. Comedy interludes are provided by the Squire Trelawney, played by Tonderai Munyevu as an 18th century drama queen to hilarious effect. Dave Fishley is another high point in his playing of poor Grey, a person who is always around, but is never noticed.

Treasure Island by Bryony Lavery, The Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 25 Nov 2016 - 7 Jan 2017. Cast: Pete Ashmore; Greg Coulson; Andrea Davy; Anni Domingo; Ru Hamilton; Dave Fishley; Michael Hodgson; Kaitlin Howard; Sian Howard; Andrew Langtree; Sarah Middleton; Tonderai Munyevv; Suzanne Nixon; Daniel Norford; Dan Poole; Thomas Pickles; Nicholas Prasad; Barnaby Southgate. Directed by Phillip Breen. Designed by Mark Bailey.

Photo credit: Pete Le May.

The set is brilliant in that you are truly transported to the deck of the Hispanola, complete with rigging and ships stores. The music is traditional in terms of sea shanties and pirate songs and adds to the atmosphere of dangerous doings at sea. With this version of Treasure Island, Bryony Lavery has created a real alternative to Christmas glitter and sparkle. Grab a jug of grog and enjoy!

Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company
Click here for ticket information.

The Rotters Club – Teen Angst in 70s Birmingham

If you asked me to name my favourite book, I could do it quite easily. ‘The Rotters Club’ by Jonathan Coe is a coming of age novel set in 1970s Birmingham, complete with teenage crushes, ‘prog rock’, meals at the Bernie Inn, and the horror of the Birmingham Pub Bombings. The Rotters Club will make you laugh, make you cry and make you smile, and it has now been bought vividly to life by The Young Rep, the Birmingham Rep’s Youth Theatre.

The action starts in 1973 and follows the high school life of Ben Trotter (or Bent Rotter as he is more commonly referred to). Ben is a pupil at King William’s school for boys, a bright lad with a talent for writing and an initially unrequited crush on Cicely Boyd. Ben has an older sister, Lois, who is looking for love and gives the play its most tragic aspect, and close friends Doug and Phil, who share his love of music and writing. We follow the story through the 1970s, through the power cuts and industrial action, through the music of bands like Hatfield of the North and the coming of punk rock and through the racism and politics of the era.

Charlie Mills (Ben Trotter) and Yusuf Niazi (Phil Chase)

Charlie Mills (Ben Trotter) and Yusuf Niazi (Phil Chase)

In the hands of the young talented cast, the play works, taking the audience back to the difficult days of the 1970s. Charlie Mills is great as Ben Trotter, especially in the truly touching scenes with grieving sister Lois (the also excellent Alice McGowan who will break your heart at the denouement of act one, but no spoilers.) Another standout from a uniformly excellent cast is Harris Myers as the idiotic, but also deeply troubled Sean Harding. His mimicry of upper class accents makes the audience laugh out loud (and saw a spontaneous round of applause), but he can also do deep and moving, such as when he is talking about his parents separation. Anna Bradley is spirited and feisty as Claire Newman, the one girl who is accepted as an honorary ‘lad’ in her role in the school magazine. You really wish that Ben would look at Claire rather than mooning over the attractive but insipid Cicely.

Charlie Mills (Ben Trotter), Yusuf Niazi (Phil Chase) and Anna Bradley (Claire Newman)

Charlie Mills (Ben Trotter), Yusuf Niazi (Phil Chase) and Anna Bradley (Claire Newman)

Louis Sutherland (Steve Richards), Haris Myers (Sean Harding) and Andrew Morrin (Culpepper)

Louis Sutherland (Steve Richards), Haris Myers (Sean Harding) and Andrew Morrin (Culpepper)

Daniel Carter (Malcolm) And Alice McGowan (Lois Trotter)

Daniel Carter (Malcolm) And Alice McGowan (Lois Trotter)

There are elements of the play that are more problematic. Without the parents of the main characters appearing in the play, it is hard to care about the political arguments between Ben and Doug, or about the disappearance of Claire’s sister Miriam, whose lover, Doug’s shop steward father, you never actually get to see or meet. The play also feels slightly too long. But these are minor quibbles in what is a forceful piece of modern theatre that evokes feelings of nostalgia for what seemed like a more innocent age, but in truth was anything but.

THE Rotters Club

By Jonathan Coe and adapted by Richard Cameron

The HOUSE at The REP

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