Ever since the National Theatre announced their National Theatre at Home series, I’ve been looking forward to seeing their adaption of Treasure Island. The book is one of my childhood favourites and is a wonderfully swashbuckling tale which created many of the key pirate iconography we understand today. My interest was further piqued when I watched the introduction below.

Treasure Island is very much a book of its time, containing a single female character. Even then Jim’s Mum leaves the story shortly after the start of the book. I don’t mind gender swapping characters if it makes sense in the story’s context. For example look at my article about the new version of Thunderbirds.

Spoilers for the book and National Theatre Live version of Treasure Island

Was Treasure Island Any Good?

The short answer is yes, but not completely. The sense of swashbuckling, adventure and fun of the book are all there with a sense of humour running through it. All the actors fit their roles, especially Arthur Darvill, who escapes Doctor Who‘s Rory Williams to deliver a great Long John Silver.

However, the star of the show is the staging. A fabulous bit of stagecraft which captures the sense of the Benbow Inn, the Hispaniola and Treasure Island itself on a singular rotating stage which raises up to a second level where required.

The Women of Treasure Island

As I hinted to above, the gender swapping worked fine. My only complaint was the repeated ‘joke’ of people thinking Jim Hawkins was a boy. Once would have been fine, but the repetition grated on me.

In fact, the way they handled the other gender flipped characters was ideal by not mentioning it at all. No one commented how it was surprising that Dr Livesey was a woman or how members of the Hispaniola’s crew were women. Certainly it worked better than the 2012 Sky TV adaptation, which added a storyline about Jim’s Mum struggling back in England. It added nothing and kept distracting from the main plot on the story.

What Didn’t Work

My main issue with the play was the ending. The reason Long John Silver is such an interesting character is he is not a straight antagonist. The book ends with Silver on the side as Jim. The play goes for a more conventual ending of Silver and the rest of his pirate crew dying on the island. This reduces Silver to being a standard villain rather than an interesting anti hero.

However, this criticism does not damn the play. As Treasure Island adaptations goes, it one of the better ones I have seen. Overall, I really enjoyed the play and would recommend it.

National Theatre at Home is showing a different play every Thursday night on YouTube for the foreseeable future. Click here to see what is coming up.

Did you watch National Theatre at Home’s Treasure Island? Tell me what you thought of it in the comments below.