An Adventure For Everyone
We caught up with Phillip Breen, Director of Treasure Island to talk adventures and pirates.
Why is Treasure Island a perfect choice for Christmas?
In Bryony Lavery's adaptation it's not only a wonderful kind of rollicking adventure story with good songs, it's a very touching coming of age story of a teenage girl and her deciding whether she's going to be a hero or a pirate. And so as well as having all the trappings of a great Christmas show – fabulous set and costumes by Mark Bailey, wonderful music by Dyfan Jones, dance numbers and all the rest of it – it has at its heart something really quite poignant and tender between the two main characters, Long John Silver and Jim.
Christmas is a time for archetypal stories, famous stories, that we return to time and time again because they remind us who we are, they remind us of our common humanity, and it's a good time of year to do that.
Jim is played by a girl in this production, can you tell us about that?
Stevenson wrote Treasure Island in the middle of the 19th century in a world where there's Robinson Crusoe, Coral Island and Huckleberry Finn. These boys' adventure stories, which were improving good stories for boys of the Victorian Age suggested a great optimism. Every classic play we put on has got to exist in 2016. It's got to understand the soil that it came from, but exist in the here and now. The idea of putting an all-male cast on stage with a young boy at its centre is not a bad thing, but to put a girl at the centre does a couple of things: one, the idea of good story in the 21st century is to say that anybody can have an adventure and two, it also acts as a little alienation device, because you think you know Treasure Island, and if you're presented with all the familiar tropes of Treasure Island then maybe you don't see it afresh, and maybe you don't see some of the more interesting and underlying aspects of the story – a story about a girl coming of age and a meditation about what is treasure.
Treasure Island is a story that's not just for boys. In Bryony's brilliant adaptation, it says it doesn't matter who you are, you can still have an adventure. We have a female Dr Livesy, we have a female Jim Hawkins, and we have female pirates, female crew, as well as male crew. So it's a good and positive story for anybody, for boys and girls, to say that anybody can have an adventure.
What about casting Michael Hodgson as Long John Silver - will he be the archetypal villain, a cunning baddie?
Long John Silver is a villain, he's got that in his locker and there are plenty of elements when yes, he does some pretty dasterdly things. But he's much more than that, rather like Captain Hook in Peter Pan. What he represents to Jim is temptation and wrongdoing, and all those things that are attractive to a child and to a young teenager.
One of the things that we discussed in our rehearsal room is that pirates are really popular: I have a godson and with him and his brothers, pirates are a big deal. But what is so attractive about these ostensibly horrible robbers? Well, it's partly due to stories like Treasure Island and Pirates of the Caribbean, but they're outlaws, they can go to bed at whatever time they like and they can eat whatever they like. So Long John Silver represents that for Jim.
Michael is a fantastic actor and physically absolutely brilliant. He's clever and he's funny but also incredibly tender, which this part needs, and we never quite know to what extent he really loves Jim, and the extent to which Jim really loves him.
How do you plan to transform The REP stage into the Hispaniola?
Mark Bailey has done an absolutely brilliant design. He has created the world of the play in a fun, complicit way where the audience is part of imagining the world. It's not a literal interpretation - it's something that feels quite homemade and clever but also works on a big scale. We've set the play in an abandoned 19th century theatre, with all of the theatrical technology of the 19th century: thunder sheets, wind machines etc. It's going to feel, I hope, deceptively low tech but it's actually very high tech.
What are you looking forward to most about the show?
I'm really looking forward to people seeing it. A big, mixed audience of people who've come to have a good time.
Describe the show in five words
Funny, ferocious, scary, cool adventure.
If you were a pirate, what would your pirate name be?
I wouldn't have the courage to be a pirate. The nice thing about being a director is that you can sit down and have coffee, inside in the warm. I'd be a hopeless pirate. I don't even particularly like camping. I'd get seasick. So maybe it would be Seasick Grey Beard or Scaredy Badger.