Before Pirates of the Caribbean brought eye patches, broken teeth and Johnny Depp’s rum-drunk vernacular into today’s pop culture, there was Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale, Treasure Island.
The book, required reading for many children who attended school before the ‘90s, was the first real pirate adventure — a coming-of-age, seafaring tale about a young cabin boy who has to fight off a band of dastardly pirates from a mutinous plot to get to, you guessed it, a bountiful treasure.
Directed by drama teacher Lana O’Brien, Treasure Island is about to get a revival thanks to W.L. Seaton Secondary School acting and stagecraft students who are bringing the story to life as this year’s 27th Street Theatre Company production.
This year, for the first time in many years, the students have been using school time to work on the play.
“The kids actually auditioned to come in to the class and work specifically on the show,” said O’Brien, who has not only been working with her students, but starring every night on stage, with her daughter Shaughnessy, in Powerhouse Theatre’s current production of Annie.
“We’ve also had to put in extra-curricular time as there’s no possible way school time would allow us to do what we do.”
Seaton’s version of Treasure Island borrows from three versions of the script based on the book to make a swashbuckling adventure.
“I got a copy of the book and stole bits from different scripts and stuck them together,” said O’Brien, who took some artistic license, putting in some flashback scenes to tell the story.
“The interesting thing about this adaptation is that although it’s a classic boy’s story, it has been freely adapted for both males and females.”
That includes lead character Jim Hawkins, played by Grade 12 student Emma Byskov.
“He is a Peter Pan-like character,” said O’Brien. “There is more gender equality in this script. We have females playing male roles, including five who play pirates, and the rest playing strong female roles.”
Picking up a sword and fighting off the likes of Long John Silver and nemesis Israel Hands has been a ton of fun, says Byskov, who first heard about Treasure Island from one of the film versions based on the tale. (The Muppets even did a version in 1996.)
“When O.B. (as the students lovingly call O’Brien) hinted at the fact that she wanted a female to play Jim Hawkins, I said ‘I want that challenge,’” said Byskov, who has been watching her male counterparts closely, observing their swagger and mannerisms “(Hawkins) becomes the one in charge and so his is a journey of a boy becoming a man. There’s also a lot of humour in the play. There’s been some parts where I’ve had to stifle a giggle. We really milk it.”
Building a pirate ship has also had all stage hands on deck, and although Treasure Island is not a musical, it features live musicians who perform as saloon entertainers in the first act.
“We have tons of talent to pool from,” said O’Brien. “I couldn’t do this without these incredible students. The kids take on a job and they own it. They collaborate with each other in finding solutions. And they do that every single day.”
Treasure Island takes the stage at Seaton’s 27th Street Theatre Dec. 7, 8 and 12 to 15 at 7:30 p.m. plus a Dec. 15 matinee at 2 p.m. Call or visit the school office at 250-542-3361 for tickets. Prizes go to the audience member with the best pirate costume.