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BWW Review: TREASURE ISLAND at the Stratford Festival is a Treasure Indeed

If you are planning a family trip to Stratford, Ontario in the coming months, here's something to add to your itinerary. Schulich Children's Plays' TREASURE ISLAND-currently on stage at Stratford Festival's Avon Theatre, is filled with wonder and delight and is sure to be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Nicolas Billon has adapted the classic tale by Robert Louis Stevenson and this is the World Premiere of that adaptation. Director Mitchell Cushman brings the story to life with the help of gorgeous, detailed, and imaginative design by Douglas Paraschuk, stunning costume design by Charlotte Dean, effective lighting by Kevin Fraser, and a boisterous cast of characters who are sure to bring a smile to faces young and old.

The play opens with young James (Thomas Mitchell Barnet) and his father (Juan Chioran) reading a tale about pirates as James plays with a pirate action figure. After some teasing from his sister, Bennett (Katelyn McCulloch), he goes to sleep and wakes up as Jim Hawkins, a young lad in eighteenth century Bristol England. He promptly gets pulled into an adventure involving buried treasure, and a bunch of pirates.

Many of the characters Jim comes into contact with may not immediately be familiar. In the novel, and in past productions, almost every character is male, but in this adaptation, several characters have been reimagined as female. Dr. Livesay (Sarah Dodd), Ben Gunn (Katelyn McCulloch), as well as some of the pirates are now female. In addition to this, the mysterious, never seen, Captain Flint, who is said to have buried the treasure, is known as Jane Flint. It is wonderful to see this and it is so important for young female and male audience members to see this as well.

The re-imagining of Ben Gunn does not stop at her gender. Katelyn McCulloch is an Aerialist, and she brings her stunning acrobatic skills to this role. Ben Gunn has been stranded on an island for 3 years and has become one with the wilderness there. We see her ravel and unravel and swing effortlessly from long silk 'vines' all while comically offering assistance to young Jim whilst waxing poetic about her love for cheese. She was an immediate audience favourite.

Juan Chioran is unsurprisingly excellent as Long John Silver and the rest of his Pirate crew are equally as great. Jamie Mac is particularly hilarious in his role as Allardyce, a pirate with an intriguing dialect who, at one point recreates a rather famous monologue that is bound to be familiar to audiences here in Stratford. As young Mr. Hawkins, Thomas Mitchell Barnet is perfectly cast. His boyish looks, and leading-man talent allow him to take the audience with him on this journey. My 15-year-old viewing partner left the theatre with a tad bit of a crush.

TREASURE ISLAND is chock-full of all the swash-buckling wonderment that one could hope for. It is a fantastic choice for those introducing kids to the theatre, as well as for those who have not quite abandoned the kid in them. This production possesses just the right amount of audience participation to keep everyone engaged and it is guaranteed to have audiences keeping their eyes open for treasure as they leave the theatre.

It should also be noted that a "Relaxed Performance" of TREASURE ISLAND is being offered on Friday July 7th at 2pm for those who will benefit from a less restricted audience environment. More information about this can be found in the 'Accessibility' section on the Stratford Festival website.

TREASURE ISLAND continues in repertory at the Avon Theatre until October 22.

Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

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