It’s called Treasure Island, but the real treasure of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1882 pirate tale is the journey itself – particularly for his young protagonist Jim Hawkins.
For him, the expedition to uncover the buried treasure of late pirate Captain Flint provides the first steps in coming to terms with the death of his father and establishing his own identity, on the way to adulthood.
The production of Treasure Island, presented by the Young People’s Theatre Company of Surrey (SYTCO) – this Saturday (7:30 p.m.) and Sunday (2:30 p.m.) at Surrey Arts Centre – is also about the journey, according to company founder and artistic director Susan Pendleton, who also penned the new adaptation.
That’s why the students of the pre-professional theatre troupe (ages eight to 17) are getting a thorough grounding in the power of theatre to enlist the imagination of an audience – with the assistance of authentic mid-18th century costuming (Rosemarie Hezelton) and a multi-purpose two-level set (designed and built by UBC theatre student Jonathan Greenway).
That’s also why Pendleton organized team-building pirate-themed field trips and treasure hunts for the students, as well as having them read the original novel and research the history of the Caribbean pirates.
“The preparation was really cool with the kids,” enthused Pendleton, adding that the challenge for the young actors has been to convey the wear and tear of an arduous real-life treasure hunt.
She acknowledges she feels re-invigorated by the current mix of students, ranging from experienced SYTCO players like six-year veteran Marina Cyr (who plays pirate George Merry) to some, like Jake Merks (double-cast with Samuel Albert in the role of Jim), who are brand new to the troupe.
“They’re just a great, wonderful, wonderful company.”
Also featured in the show are newcomer Aiden McNeilage as Captain Smollett, with Jodi-Ann Wang, Adriana Dobbie, Sophie Levy and Autumn Wheatley, and new company members Rachel Warkentin, Gerrit McNeilage and McKenna Burgess as loyal British expeditioners.
The pirates include experienced SYTCO players Cassie Strain, Shubhi Singh, Kana Saarni and Elizabeth Olsson, and newcomers Brian Wu, Jaimie Reynolds, Lauren Benson, Samrridhi Singh and Mia Jones.
Adult players in the key roles of marooned pirate Ben Gunn and rascally sea cook and mutiny organizer Long John Silver are Sam Warwick and Amie Pendleton-Knoll.
Treasure Island, a literary staple for earlier generations of children, is less familiar to the current crop of students, Pendleton found.
“I think it’s new to a lot of them – although a lot had seen The Muppets’ Treasure Island,” she said.
‘”It was a struggle for them to read the book – it’s not the easiest read, with the Victorian language of Stevenson.”
But the rewards have been great, she said – noting that she chose Treasure Island partly to counterbalance recent productions.
“Last year we did these lovely girls’ plays like Madeline and The Little Princess, but I had more boys this year,” noted Pendleton, who added this is the company’s first real foray into adventure since the days of such early productions as Pippi Longstocking, Ronia The Robber’s Daughter and The Prince and the Pauper.
“It’s not a musical, for better or worse, although we have the Yo-ho-ho and a Bottle Of Rum song and a tavern dance number,” Pendleton said.
Having read many versions that would need considerable adaptation to fit SYTCO’s needs, she decided to take advantage of the book’s public domain status to hand-tailor her own for the group.
“It was a huge challenge to adapt the novel,” Pendleton said, acknowledging that some telescoping and compression of events is necessary to present the story on stage.
“That’s why I’ve been saying to the cast, if something doesn’t make sense, please tell me.”
Pendleton said she believes Treasure Island retains its fascination because it has far more sophisticated themes in play than the usual youth-oriented adventure.
Many centre on the devious Silver, who has indisputable charm, even though he has assembled former pirate associates as the crew of the expedition’s ship, The Hispaniola.
“There are two mysteries going on – one the audience doesn’t know about, and one they do, that Long John Silver has planned a mutiny, once the treasure has been found.
“The play is really about the good and bad in everything – Long John Silver is playing the game, but he also sincerely loves the boy,” she said.
“We don’t have good guys and bad guys – the other treasure-seekers, the British Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey are, in their own way, just as bad as the pirates.
“But the show is also about Jim’s coming-of-age. He’s searching for a role model because he’s lost his father. At first it’s the old pirate Billy Bones, and then it’s Long John Silver, and the Doctor and the Squire.
“And with all of them, there’s a battle between good and materialism.”
For tickets, call 604-501-5566 or visit https://tickets.surrey.ca