Treasure Island Review

Director: Sean Holmes
Composer: Tom Haines
Writer: Ken Ludwig
Designer: Lizzie Clachan

Details: Theatre Royal Haymarket, Haymarket, SW1Y 4HT
Tube: Leicester Square
Performances: Mon and Wed-Sat 7.30 pm, Tue 7 pm, Matinees Wed and Sat 2.30 pm (until 28 February 2009)
Running time: 2h30

Treasure IslandIn short: A swashbuckling performance that's heavy on stunts and bound to make Lily Allen smile.

In full: "I'm really never out of a codpiece," the Times quotes Keith Allen as saying. "You do get a lot for your money though." Innuendo aside, a certain pop star's father is right that he makes an entertaining West End debut.

Allen stars as Long John Silver in the latest theatrical interpretation of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 pirate tale, and a cast including Michael Legge (Shameless, His Dark Materials) and Paul Brennen (King Lear) brings heart and humour to the coming-of-age classic.

Legge plays the eager but naïve Jim Hawkins, an innkeeper's son who comes across a coveted treasure map and embarks with a group of Southwest England sailors to get a part of the riches. Silver, a secret pirate hired to be the ship's cook, plans a mutiny at sea and soon finds himself in the midst of a stockade fight with Captain Smollett (Tony Bell). Jim is shocked to learn that Silver has undisclosed information about his recently deceased father, but he's perhaps even more surprised by how quickly the pirate-against-crew battles make him grow up as he decides how to protect the map.

Although Treasure Island likely will never find the smash success of The Mousetrap or shellshock jaded critics like the recent run of Brief Encounter, the sword-swinging play offers solid family entertainment with the chance to watch acting royalty in person. After Allen's widely acclaimed performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the BBC's Robin Hood, he brings humility to the role of high-seas rebel. And forget about the codpiece - the calf muscles he must have carefully honed while hobbling across the stage on a peg leg get the real attention.

Fight director Terry King choreographs battle scenes like waltzes, but kids and adults alike should beware of extra-loud and alarmingly real-sounding shotguns. Also questionable is Brennen's extended cheese obsession as the half-crazy marooned Brit Ben Gunn, who's just looking for food and a way home. For maximum enjoyment of the show, bring some Gouda or gruyere to help Allen's cast mate keep what remains of his sanity.

- Jill Hilbrenner