The annual Lancaster institution that is The Dukes walkabout theatre has kicked off again with this year’s performance of Treasure Island.
It’s 30 years since The Dukes Theatre first invited audiences to join them in Williamson Park, and the magic is still very much alive and kicking.
It was always going to be a recipe for success, with the natural beauty of the park’s woodland and pathways, the majesty of the Ashton Memorial, and the stunning views over Morecambe Bay all combining to create one of the UK’s most impressive stage settings.
Throw in some classic storytelling, crafty adaptation, passionate acting, skillful technical input and a sprinkling of audience imagination, and you can understand why hundreds of thousands of people keep coming back year after year.
This year, Treasure Island started off in the park’s newly renovated kids’ play area, with members of the Dukes Youth Theatre setting a lively scene playfully mimicking what you might expect to see at parks across the country as the sun goes down.
The boombox blared and the kids danced and jockeyed, and the show was underway, introducing some of the well known characters from Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘coming of age’ novel, written in 1883.
Brought up to date by well established writing and directing partnership Debbie Oates and Joe Sumsion, the story unfolds over six scenes.
The kids in the park transition into pirates hilariously smoothly, and the comparisons between teenager and swashbuckler continue throughout.
Jem (Jim) Hawkins, played by Natasha Davidson, takes centre stage as the adventure unfolds, the treasure map is discovered, and the playground swagger of the pirates/teenagers makes the jump from ‘real-life’ to fantasy as the crew take to the high seas on the good ship Hispanolia.
The show is fast paced, and the cast are clearly enjoying themselves, with plenty of comedy, and some fantastic props and puppets.
The parrot, the cat, the dragon and the shark are all brought to life imaginatively and add colour and depth to the human parts.
The ship itself is a creative triumph, and the sea is imaginatively brought to life by both the cast and the use of flags as crashing waves and sails.
Original music plays a big part in the show, and you’d be hard pressed not to be humming one of the many swashbuckling pirate songs, or more reflective pieces, on your way out of the park.
Dukes stalwart Gareth Cassidy was in his element as pirate Tom Morgan, his backtracking for the shovel to dig for the treasure in the Beyond the Stockade scene was slapstick comedy gold. I’m still laughing at the image in my mind’s eye now.
Chris Jack also played a schizophrenic and edgy Ben Gunn in an extremely convincing style.
The play catered for all ages, the humour was very much accessible to both our nine and five year old, and there were plenty of laughs from the adults in the audience as well.
The final scene by and on the lake is wonderfully created, as the crew have to decide what’s more important, the treasure or their lives?
At three hours long, there’s little time to take a breath.
The movement between stages becomes as magical as the show itself as the sun goes down, as lanterns twinkle and the cast provide distractions for the audience as they make their way through the woods.
Well done, as always, to all those involved in keeping the magic alive.
The show runs six days a week (except Sundays) until August 12 (sold out Saturday July 8 and 15).
For tickets visit HERE