Treasure Island

Written on June 8th, 2017

The Kids will Love this Treasure   

This year’s Schulich Children’s Play is a new rendition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.  In fact, the Stratford Festival commissioned Nicolas Billon to create this adaptation of the familiar story.  Treasure Island made its recent world première at the Avon Theatre.

Billon’s version is strictly for the kids. As families come into the theatre, a large telescope is on the stage.  Kids are invited up to have a look through the huge spy glass, and it proves very popular.  Some of the children (and child-like adults) in the audience are dressed in pirate get-up, just for the occasion.  Secret treasure maps are handed out to the children along with the programs.

It begins as a story within the story:  Dad is reading Treasure Island to son James, while daughter Bennet is stretching on the upper bunk.  Suddenly little James is Jim Hawkins going on a strange and wonderful adventure on the high seas.  The story doesn’t provide much plot, just a series of adventures.

Billon has written this panto-style, like the kids’ shows so popular at Christmas time.  The characters talk to the audience, asking what’s behind him.  But when the children in the audience call out the answers, they are unable to see what the children see, or follow their directions.  As always, the children seem to love the interaction. 

There are also many amusing set items.  For example, there is a tiny boat rowed by little figures that travels along a wire from the box seats to the stage.  Thanks to the spotlights, the shadows appear full-sized on the back of the stage. And be warned:  if you choose to sit in a box seat, you may be abducted by pirates and put into service.  Or you could be thrown to your death, just like the inflatable pirate.

Juan Chioran is a perfect Long John Silver, stomping about on crutches due to his severed leg. Thomas Mitchell Barnet is quite charming as the child James as well as the youth Jim Hawkins.  His sister, Bennett, who later becomes Ben Gunn who helps Jim through the adventures, is played by Katelyn McCulloch.  McCulloch is an amazing aerial acrobat, swinging high above the stage from silk scarves in various configurations.

A strong ensemble of pirates, misfits and adventurers rounds out the cast, offering plenty of action on stage, to hold the attention of kids of all ages.

Treasure Island is a wonderful experience for the senses with various tricks sure to keep children enthralled.  And keep your eye on the figurehead on the front of the pirate ship.  She’s a rather crude carving and not exactly beautiful, but right before our eyes, she turns into something much uglier.  Get out your eye patch and bandana, pack a picnic lunch, grab the kids or grandkids and go see Treasure Island.

Treasure Island continues in repertoire until October 22 at the Avon Theatre, Stratford.  Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check

Photo: Juan Chioran as Long John Silver and Thomas Mitchell Barnet as Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Treasure Island
By Robert Louis Stevenson
Adapted by Nicholas Billon
Directed by Mitchell Cushman
Original music composed by Debashis Sinha
Musical Direction by Franklin Brasz
Performed by Thomas Mitchell Barnett, Juan Chioran, Katelyn McCulloch et al.
Produced by the Stratford Festival
Avon Theatre, Stratford, Ontario
June 3 to October 22, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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