TREASURE ISLAND REVIEW

Peoples Theatre – Heaton

Guest blog by John Gregson from Blade Printers

I’ve often driven past “Peoples Theatre” on the Coast Road (next to the Corner House Pub), numerous times but never thought about actually visiting. To be totally honest I didn’t even realise it was still open, it always looked closed due to the dark, dingy and uninviting exterior. Passing by a few weeks ago I noticed a dramatic change, with brand new striking glass frontage and clean uncomplicated signage, it now has the look of a high end city centre bar/restaurant – a huge improvement and now much more welcoming and inviting than before.

I made a note to find out more info about this Theatre but before I had time to do so, an email arrived from top local entertainment/review website “InNewcastle” with an invitation to write a blog on “Treasure Island”, you’ve guessed it, at “Peoples Theatre” – my lucky day! With no Metro station close by, we (my trusted blogging partner/wife and I) decided to take the car – buses do run past and stop at the Corner House Pub, but due to running late the car was chosen. Parking is very limited at the Theatre and surrounding streets have parking enforcement in place, but with approximately 20 minutes to spare, we managed to squeeze into the last remaining gorse bush, fence and wall combo, commonly known as a parking space, directly outside the Theatre.

Passing through the new glass entrance leads directly to the box office, a bar and a spacious foyer which is laid out with tables and chairs for patrons to while away the time with a drink or two before a play. A sofa and a few comfy chairs are arranged nearer the glass frontage and most walls are bedecked with large paintings, for sale by local artists, and black and white stills from tonight’s show. With stripped back walls exposing the brickwork, visible foil wrapped air-con pipes and a large expanse of glass, it has a semi industrial feel to it, softened slightly by subdued lighting – it could double as an art studio.

With tickets in hand, we were politely directed to our seats and what crackers they were too – E11/E12, central and not to far away from the stage – in fact, after a quick scan of the Theatre, I’d be happy seated anywhere as there didn’t seem to be any obstructed views and binoculars wouldn’t be needed if seated in the back row.

As the audience took their seats, a lone sailor stood on stage and played a few sea shanties on an accordion and very good he was too – much better than a blank curtain or piped background music. At 7.00pm prompt, the play starts with a scene at an Inn run by Jim and Grandma Hawkins – wooden rum barrels, crates and tea chests make for tables and chairs that are adorned by salty sea pirates, enjoying a grog or two. Jim Hawkins, played by Abbie Herron, sets the scene by narrating the story – she carries on this faultless narration throughout the play with never a stutter, missed word or silent pause to be heard, very impressive from such a young talent.

This adaptation, by Bryony Lavery, of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson novel “Treasure Island” gives a very different slant on the story by casting women in some of the male roles, like panto. This does take a while to get used to, especially if you’ve seen the film or read the book, but in no way detracts from the actual storyline. Jim and the majority of the sailors are played by women with a few of the roles left for men – one part I’m glad remained unchanged was that of “Long John Silver” played flawlessly by Paul Gaitskill. He carried this off in a Johnny Depp/Jack Sparrow-esque diction that added much needed humour to the play.

From the local Inn the stage transforms into the deck of the sailing ship, Hispaniola, with just a few minor adjustments to barrels and crates. On board, Long John Silver produces the most stand out moment of the night for me, just before the break when he befriends and educates Jim on how to navigate using only the night sky.

With just the two of them acting on stage together, and no props or background distractions, their performances were totally captivating, holding the audience in the palms of their hands – shame the break interrupted such a brilliant scene.

During the interval the accordion playing sailor holds stage swapping his instrument for a drum and keeping the audience amused with a few sea shanties which require audience participation – all good fun. After a quick 20 minutes and ice creams thoroughly demolished, we have mutiny, a few deaths and another stage change, this time round we’re on the Island where the actual treasure is buried.

With the scene change, brings another character to the fray, that of cheese loving Ben Gunn played impeccably by “Ethan Rutherford” – in fact the whole of this amateur and well rehearsed cast deserve a mention. I’ll not spoil the end, but hazzard to say that, as with all good plays, the main characters always come out on top – this version of Treasure Island doesn’t disappoint. By 9.00pm and finishing with a catchy rendition of “Drunken sailor” and a short, full cast encore, to gentle polite applause, it’s over. A thoroughly enjoyable evening was had by all, at a Theatre new to me – but one that I’d definitely visit again.