Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Wee Stories' Treasure Island preview in the Herald, by Mary Brennan

Spinning a desert island delight

by Mary Brennan

Published on 5 Apr 2010

Andy Cannon is talking pirates.

Well actually, he’s enthusing about them in a happy overdrive of facts and fictions. Speculating, between times, on the appeal of a really good baddie – why is it that scoundrels and robbers seem to gain in allure once they weigh anchor and go pillaging on the high seas? And though Captain Jack Sparrow does enter into the conversation, with a thumbs up for the first (but definitely not the second or the third) film in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, it’s Long John Silver, the wily one-legged buccaneer in Treasure Island, who is most on Cannon’s mind.

Wee Stories, in other words Cannon and long-time collaborator Iain Johnstone, are about to revive the company’s hugely successful version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckling tale. Johnstone is revisiting his inner, piratical self: he reckons Long John Silver is the hero, OK maybe the anti-hero, in the book. Cannon, meanwhile, is flexing his memory, and his muscles, as he reconnects with the energies of Jim Hawkins, the lad he maintains is the real, the true, hero. So there.

And there you have the makings of a good going spat that will bring the book to life, not as a dutiful narrative but as an adventure into who we are, what sides we’d take in certain circumstances, which character we’d want to have as a friend. Cannon has to laugh. Because the partisan passions that flared up when he and Johnstone first worked on the piece in 2001 haven’t dulled down or shifted ground across the years. And subsequent productions have seen the pair build on the bantering rapport that (mostly) casts Johnstone as the numpty and Cannon as the smart Alec – a relationship seen to memorable effect in stagings of Arthur, The Story of a King, Jock and the Beanstalk and The Emperor’s New Kilt to name but three of their popular hits. But the humour and playful interactions of their nifty, much-loved double-act were sparked by Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Going back to it now is a bit like visiting an old friend.

“We do describe this piece as a labour of love for us,” says Cannon. “We liken it to this old VW van that we hold onto in the garage. From time to time we go in and tinker about with it, tune it up, then we get in and drive round in the sun for a bit.”

The forthcoming drive in the sun is a tour that kicks off next week at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, takes in various venues north and south of the border before ending up in London on June 12.

As for the tinkering... Fans who remember the show from previous incarnations can rest easy: changes are relatively minor and, according to Cannon, are “more to do with us not being as young and supple as we were. The show is still as physically demanding - but maybe we don’t do things quite as we did before.”

He then comes disarmingly clean with the information that the tea-chest on the raft has been adjusted. “We’ve made a new one that’s just a wee bit bigger so as I can get out of it. It’s not the waistline - it’s my knees! I don’t have Jim Hawkins’s knees any more!”

By way of information for those who haven’t seen Wee Stories’ Treasure Island, the action takes place on board a raft. Two musicians - in full evening suits, with a hint of 1930’s elegance - have been shipwrecked and are now afloat with a clutter of stuff, but precious few of life’s essentials. Never best mates when all was plain sailing, the duo are now locked into a close proximity that could lead to madness or murder or both. There is, however, a lifeline that will help rescue their sanity and help them to survive their ordeal: a copy of Treasure Island. Escaping into Stevenson’s story, they side with specific characters and re-enact events that see young Jim not just ducking in and out of tea chests but discovering puzzling truths about the adult world and that duplicitous charmer Long John Silver in particular.

“Every time Iain and I go back to Stevenson’s story, we find new things in it,” says Cannon. “And sometimes we’re just taken aback by how brave, how radical, it was for its time. We can hardly believe it was written and published in the 1880’s. Or that some people thought it was just - just! - a book for children. Apart from Stevenson’s qualities as a writer, you have an amazing story about a boy who meets this incredibly clever, complex man who he thinks he can trust - so really, it’s a book that is timeless and a book that can say something to adults, as well as children, about values, about trust, about what makes a ‘goodie’ or what makes a ‘baddie.’”

For Wee Stories, the real treasure is the book itself. So audiences will find a new, special Wee Stories edition of Stevenson’s novel is now available, complete with eye-catching skull and cross-bones on the cover.

The company website - http://www.weestoriestheatre.org/ - harbours a wealth of video-clips and further details of the tour.

Treasure Island is at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from April 13 – 17, times vary.

See: Treasure Island preview in the Herald

Friday, 2 April 2010

The Story behind Treasure Island

It was with much trepidation and excitement that we set sail, many years ago, on our adventure of staging Robert Louis Stevenson’s amazing novel - Treasure Island. We began to understand the emotions Jim Hawkins might have felt as he sailed out of Bristol, leaving his mother far behind him for a future unknown.

Staging a novel can be a foolhardy mission to attempt for any theatre company, particularly a book as famous and renowned as Treasure Island. The theatre experience cannot begin to equal the imaginative joy of reading a novel. How, in two hours to tell the story that takes the reader weeks to accomplish? And anyway, why bother? Just read the book! So that’s what we did, we read the book and we realised we didn’t know Stevenson’s fantastic story as well as we thought we did. We were familiar with the story through the various film versions (our favourite was the Muppet’s Treasure Island) and became aware that very few people nowadays have actually read the novel.

So there was our first solution to staging Treasure Island, for us not to pretend it was anything other than a book. Not a play, not a film, a book! Our on-stage characters, Andy and Iain, would act out the book. We decided to put our two characters into a ‘frame story’, a kind of situation comedy, two people stranded somewhere with only the book for company. Our first thought was to put our on-stage characters on a desert island, but thankfully our designer Shona Reppe had a much better idea and stranded us on a raft in the middle of an ocean. That unlocked the show for us. We would be two musicians (or one musician and a drummer) shipwrecked from a sunken cruise liner, adrift on a raft in the middle of the Atlantic with only bananas and champagne for nourishment, a double-bass, a ukulele and a copy of Treasure Island.

If you saw the show then read the book, you may have noticed a few differences. Firstly we had to reduce the amount of characters in the novel to a practical amount that the two of us could portray, a total of twelve. We then realised that our version would consist of a series of double acts; Jim and Billy Bones, Silver and Jim, Israel and Dick etc. This however hit a snag with the organisers of the voyage; the Squire, Dr Livesey and Captain Smollett – a trio. So we solved that problem by handing the doctor the black spot!

Perhaps the biggest change we made to the novel was simplifying the ‘back-story’ of Captain Flint and Ben Gunn. In the novel, Ben is on the ship, not on the island as Flint takes six men ashore to bury the treasure and then witnesses Flint rowing back alone having murdered the six unfortunates. Ben then returns after Flint’s death, three years later, in another ship to search for the treasure. But his obsession causes him to be marooned on the island until the arrival of the Hispaniola. We simplified this by making Ben one of the six men Flint took to the island who, having witnessed the other five being killed, escapes and hides in a cave.

We hope you enjoyed our version of Stevenson’s classic tale. Even more, we hope it inspired you to read the novel. We re-read the book every time we restage the production and every time we read Treasure Island we discover something new, something we missed the first time around. Lucky you, you’ve still got that to look forward to!
Iain Johnstone & Andy Cannon

Tuesday, 26 January 2010


In April and May, Wee Stories return with their thrilling version of Treasure Island, the greatest pirate story of them all.

Set sail with Long John Silver and young Jim Hawkins on a swashbuckling adventure where desperate men fight for hidden treasure, bloodthirsty pirates rule the high seas and danger lurks at every turn.

Opening at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow on 13th April, the tour then continues across Scotland with performances at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, Eden Court, Inverness, Howden Park Centre, Livingston and the macrobert, Stirling.

Suitable for everyone over 8 years (not for the fainthearted…)

Tuesday 13 - Saturday 17 April
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Tuesday 13th at 2.30pm (preview)
Wednesday 14th at 2.30pm & 7pm
Thursday 15th at 2.30pm
Friday 16th at 7pm
Saturday 17th at 2.30pm & 7pm
Tel: 0141 429 0022
Book online: http://www.citz.co.uk/

Wednesday 21 - Saturday 24 April
King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Wednesday 21st at 10.30am & 7pm
Thursday 22nd at 7pm
Friday 23rd at 7pm
Saturday 24th at 2pm & 7pm
Tel: 0131 529 6000
Book online at: http://www.eft.co.uk/

Wednesday 28 April - Saturday 1 May
Eden Court, Inverness
Wednesday 28th at 1.30pm & 7.30pm
Thursday 29th at 7.30pm
Friday 30th at 7.30pm
Saturday 1st at 1.30pm & 7.30pm
Tel: 01463 234 234
Book online at: http://www.eden-court.co.uk/

Tuesday 18th May at 1pm
Howden Park Centre, Livingston
Tel: 01506 777 666
Book online at: http://www.howdenparkcentre.co.uk/

Friday 21 - Saturday 22 May
macrobert, Stirling
Friday 21st at 10.30am & 7pm
Saturday 22nd at 1.30pm
Tel: 01786 466 666
Tickets and information: http://www.macrobert.org/

Wednesday 2 - Saturday 5 June
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Wednesday 2nd at 7pm
Thursday 3rd at 1.30pm & 7pm
Friday 4th at 7pm
Saturday 5th at 1.30pm & 7pm
Tel: 0113 213 7700
Book online at: http://www.wyp.org.uk/

Tuesday 8 & Wednesday 9 June
Loughborough Town Hall
Tuesday 8th at 10am & 7pm
Wednesday 9th at 10am
Tel: 01509 231 914
Book online at: http://www.loughboroughtownhall.co.uk/
or at http://www.sparkfestival.co.uk/

Saturday 12 June at 3pm
Stratford Circus, London
Tel: 0844 357 2625
Book online at: http://www.stratford-circus.com/