Review: Kidnapped at Northern Stage
Kidnapped – Northern Stage
9th May 2023
Tonight, I have been treated to the second stage adaptation of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. The first was Treasure Island at The Theatre Royal and today was Kidnapped by the very talented company of The National Theatre of Scotland. The two productions are very different but both offer a humorous homage to the well-loved books.
The sizeable and varied audience this evening was treated to some 80’s music as they entered the auditorium and this soundtrack was echoed throughout this delightful romp which is unashamedly Scottish and is all the more endearing for it.
This stage play has been adapted and mercilessly lampooned by Isobel McArthur with Michael John McCarthy and is delightfully littered with dry Scottish wit throughout. As a Sassenach south of the border of bonny Scotland, I fully admit to not understanding every word that was spoken this evening but the sense and the passion shone through in this love fest for all things north of Berwick-Upon-Tweed.
The narrator of the piece is Frances (Kim Ismay), the twice wed and current wife of Robert Louis Stevenson himself. Her vocals are exquisite as she belts out the opening number and her story which carries through the accompanying story is delivered with an acerbic American wit which is both entertaining and heartfelt. She also introduces our hero, the thoroughly likeable Davie Balfour (Ryan J. Balfour), a recently orphaned 17-year-old who is sent on a quest to understand his lineage and become a man.
The story itself is largely played for laughs and provides them in abundance but there is a gorgeously and delicate love story, a rags to riches narrative and a coming-of-age journey which are all very effectively weaved into what is ultimately an emotional and hilarious rollercoaster over the length and breadth of Scotland via the high seas, both above and below the Atlantic Ocean.
Technically, this production is very sound indeed and much credit for must go to the movement director Emily Jane Boyle. Under her guidance, the cast were so slick and the scene changes flowed effortlessly throughout. There are some very clever visuals within the set and props which amuse and amaze in equal measures and the opening to act two is quite something but I will leave it at that for fear of spoilers. The set is simple on the face of it but with some very clever uses of props and backdrops, the audience is in no doubt how much work has gone into bringing this production to life and would definitely not be the same without this endeavour in the background. Amy Orton should take a bow for taking on the challenges brought about to create such a wonderful set and not only that, but the costumes as well which were perfect.
The only other named part I have yet to mention is the de facto prince of the piece, Alan Breck Stewart, played with elegance and more than a touch of arrogance by Malcolm Cumming. He manages to exude every facet of masculine toxicity on his entrance as the vain, self-righteous challenger to the status quo and defender of all things traditionally Scottish. His romantic side is shown later in the show and the chemistry between this cavalier swain and his intended is beautiful in its understatement.
I have mentioned all the named parts but this production is very much made up by the sum of its parts. The rest of the characters, of which there were many, were all played by actors listed in the programme as ‘Ensemble’. If they had listed the characters, the programme would have been if a telephone directory but I cannot praise this ensemble highly enough. The work they put in from the many character changes, to playing musical instruments, moving the scenery and the many asides to the audience is as delightful to watch as it is awe inspiring.
Which leads me neatly on to the soundtrack. This production is billed as swashbuckling rom-com adventure – and there is no doubt that is exactly what it is. Throughout the production there is a myriad of mainly high camp 80s classics which have been cleverly reworked to add a more modern feel to the piece. There has obviously been a great deal of thought gone into the choice of music and each has a very good reason to be there alongside the narrative to drive the story along. The much-repeated love motif is particularly effective. The fact that the music is performed by the actors of the company onstage is another factor which gives this production the wow factor.
Kidnapped plays at Northern Stage until 13th May and I would heartily recommend that anyone gets along to see this swashbuckling tale of understanding, coming of age, ridiculously inept pirates and a twice married woman just trying desperately to keep it all together. An outstanding production from a troupe of actors who are clearly loving their lives as part of the cast of Kidnapped.
– Stephen Stokoe
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