As a reviewer for What's Good To Do we are very fortunate to visit the theatre on a regular basis. Of all the shows we see The Dukes annual outdoor production is always the highlight of the year for us. Williamson Park is such a beautiful location and has transported us to many different places over the years. The Dukes have been using the park for outdoor productions for the last 30 years and whilst we haven't been going quite that long we have been going over 20 years! We saw Jungle Book back in 1995 and have to say that the shows seem to get better every year.
This year Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel, Treasure Island has been given a thrilling new twist by the award-winning team behind last year’s sell-out production of The Hobbit. We were delighted to hear that The Hobbit won the 2016 UK Theatre Award for Best Show for Children & Young People and were all excited to see what Debbie Oates’ adaptation of Treasure Island had in store for us.
The first scene was set in the newly renovated children’s play area, with members of the Dukes Youth Theatre entertaining the audience before the play started. Jem Hawkins played by Natasha Davidson discovers a treasure map in her uncle’s book and desperate to escape her home life decides to go in search of the treasure. To do this she needs a ship and crew and sets sail from Fleetwood Docks on the Hispaniola. The problem is – she’s picked the wrong crew: an opinionated parrot, a bunch of pirate buffoons and the terrifying Long John Silver!
Performed with a cast of seven it was nice to see some familiar faces, Gareth Cassidy and Victoria Brazier have starred in previous park productions and Natasha Davidson played Belle in Beauty and the Beast. The play is suitable for all the family and includes plenty of humour; we especially liked the scene where Gareth Cassidy as pirate Tom Morgan had to retrace his steps which was incredibly well done and hilarious to watch.
The play was split into six different scenes, each set in a different location in the park. There really can’t be a better place to stage an outdoor production; Williamson Park has beautiful parkland, woodland walks and breathtaking views. With the impressive Ashton memorial and lake very little additional scenery is needed. Walking around the park from scene to scene adds to the atmosphere and there is a friendly team to guide the audience safely to the next location. As night fell and we walked to the last scene the way was lit by lanterns, which added to the atmosphere and excitement of the night.
Putting on a show of this size takes an enormous amount of work; the technical team are amazing setting up the lighting and sound at each location and then moving on ahead of the audience between each scene. Special effects, background music and sounds add to the experience and we could clearly hear the dialogue. The words were perhaps not quite as clear when the pirates sang their songs however the words were printed in the programme so you could sing along if you wanted. The use of flags to represent the sea and the sails of the Hispaniola was also very effective.
The costumes are striking, the tracksuited youths from the playground becoming the brightly dressed pirate crew and Jem’s brother becoming Long John Silver complete with wooden leg. Puppets, mainly operated by the younger cast members, also added to the show with a cat, giant lizard, shark and of course a very talkative parrot!
With Treasure Island it wasn’t difficult to include the lake into the play. As the cast escaped from Treasure Island and sailed away across the lake they were joined by unexpected extras…. in the shape of the resident ducks. It was quite obvious that the ducks were not happy that their lake had been invaded as they were settling down for the evening and the resulting loud quacking was an entertaining end to a brilliant evening.
Lasting three hours this is family entertainment at its best, with plenty of laughter, singing and smiling faces this is a lovely way to spend a summer’s evening.
Williamson Park is easy to find, it is signposted from the A6 and parking is just £1 for the evening. The play starts at 7.15pm however many people take a picnic to eat before the show. Seating varies at each location, sometimes there are logs to sit on and in other locations the audience can sit on the ground. I would recommend taking a mat or blanket to sit on, especially when it is wet so you are not sat on the wet ground! The play continues whatever the weather so it is definitely worth checking the forecast before you leave and dressing appropriately.
The show is at Williamson Park until the 12th August but with such a loyal following, some dates are already sold out so get your tickets booked soon!
We received free tickets for the purpose of this review.