Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch
After last summer's Peter Pan, Stevenson's ever-popular story of "buccaneers and buried gold".
It is an amazing show – specially commissioned from Hornchurch favourite Chris Bond, with original music, largely inspired by songs and ballads of the period, by Steven Markwick, and a superb set by Claire Lyth.
It is Skeleton Island, of course, but gradually revealed, first as a jetty or promontory for the Admiral Benbow, then as the deck of the Hispaniola [a wonderful transformation] and finally as the lush, revolving tropical paradise.
Excellent work from the Cut to the Chase company of actor/musicians – even before the first entrance of the pirate band they are out in the foyer, posing for Instagrams and getting the younger punters onside in their quest for Billy Bones.
But here lies the only real problem with Bob Carlton's very enjoyable summer show. Is it aimed at the Cub Scouts with their glow-sticks and their pirate hats ? Stevenson's dark tale is faithfully served, at least in the First Act, and there's plenty of exposition and story-telling. Then, suddenly as flipping a switch, Sam Pay's Trelawny makes his entrance, and the whole mood changes to Blackadderish banter and silliness, as he and Dr Livesey [Sean Needham] recruit "wiff-waff" for their treasure quest. The whole thing seems to want to be an authentic eighteenth-century piece, with satire and popular songs, like The Beggar's Opera. Then suddenly there's a bouncy cheese-based number for Ben Gunn [Sam Kordbacheh] which wouldn’t be out of place in Spamalot. And for those expecting a panto, the classic ombres chinoises operation routine ...
Much of the narrative falls to Dylan Kennedy's Jim Lad: an appealing performance, sweetly sung, but a bit of a wimp in this version. Much more ballsy characterizations from Alice Blundell and Sarah Mahony as the female pirates, and from Kordbacheh when he finally re-appears as Flint in all his swashbuckling glory. James Earl Adair makes a believable, multi-dimensional Long John Silver – supported by a crutch and a scene-stealing parrot.
The script is often witty, with shreds of Stevenson for good measure. The music is great – Liliburlero, name-checked in the novel, is there, as is Fifteen Men – and the big Brave Buccaneer number is catchy, though it could have used a bit more choreography.
A "perfect summertime treat"? Well, yes, apart from the very tiniest, the kids seemed happy with the pirates, the impressive storm, the swordplay and the exciting ending. And while liberties are certainly taken with the story, the spirit of Stevenson, and of the eighteenth-century stage, lives on in this enjoyable theatrical adventure.
Captain Hook last year, Silver this year. And in summer 2014 ? What about the Broadway Pirates of Penzance, with Kordbacheh bringing his dashing Depp to the role of the Pirate King ?