Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates

December 4, 2015 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆      Festive cheer

Edinburgh Tabernacle: Wed 2 – Sat 5 Dec 2015
Review by Hugh Simpson

Great fun and considerable musicality can be found in St Serf’s Players’ Robinson Crusoe and The Pirates at the Edinburgh Tabernacle.

The script, an off-the-shelf affair by Paul Reakes, has all of the necessary elements for a pantomime, which are attempted with relish and energy.

Vicki Horne (Blackbeard) and Fredericka Morrison (Patch). Photo Gordon Hughes

Vicki Horne (Blackbeard) and Fredericka Morrison (Patch). Photo Gordon Hughes

Certainly pirates feature much more largely than any elements of Crusoe in a storyline that owes much more to Treasure Island than to Defoe. It is a somewhat dry affair, with the interpolated local gags failing to lift it too much above ordinary.

However, there is enough commitment from the performers to render this as academic as most panto plots. Charlie West excels as Robinson Crusoe’s glaikit brother Willy, and is also tremendous at interacting with the audience. However – and this is no fault of the performer – the cheeky, knowing figure who is so clever at breaking the fourth wall is an entirely different character to the ‘daftie’ he so effectively portrays as Willy.

This double persona does give an odd air to proceedings, while West’s undoubted stagecraft and presence tends to outshine some of what goes on around him. While the performances are all at least competent, there is a lack of direction about some of the portrayals.

However counterintuitive it may be to criticise a dame for lacking nuance, Philip Wilson’s Ma Crusoe suffers a little from being one note, meaning that some of the jokes and double entendres fall flat and the character lacks in sympathy. He still manages to turn in a funny, accomplished performance.

a funny, accomplished performance

Vicki Horne’s baddie Blackbeard suffers in a similar way. Almost entirely hidden behind capacious facial hair, she manages to roll and pop her eyes impressively. But while her constant shouting is hugely impressive at first, it is subject to the law of diminishing returns.

It looks like a treasure map! Photo: Gordon Hughes

It looks like a treasure map! (Sophie Williams, Eilidh West, Rona Arnott, Philip Wilson, Charlie West and Lynsey Spence) Photo: Gordon Hughes

Eilidh West’s Robinson Crusoe is a likeable, charming portrayal that is too understated in such company. She is obviously a very talented performer whose singing is particularly good, but she just needs more direction to be compelling.

Sophie Williams, as Robinson’s love interest Polly, the barmaid who mysteriously disappears from the story early on (or does she?), is confident, versatile and thoroughly at home on stage.

There are believable characterisations  from Lynsey Spence (Willy’s beloved Bessie) and Rona Arnott (her father Captain Bowsprit) who both give the plot some much-needed anchoring. Fredericka Morrison, as Blackbeard’s sidekick Patch, is one of those interesting parts who has to retain the audience’s sympathies while doing the baddie’s bidding, and she manages this well. Dorsay Larnach’s Queen Neptune is a centred, dignified characterisation, while Chris Dall turns in some top-class gorilla acting.

While there is a mix of comedy and music aimed at a wide audience, the whole thing is a shade too long. Good as the songs are, there are too many of them, and some are a little long in the tooth. A musical-theatre-styled Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat is extremely accomplished but is oddly out of place.

A candidate for trimming

An obvious candidate for trimming the production would be to remove Man Friday. Since there is no connection with Defoe’s novel beyond the title, this character could easily be lost. As it is, the scene where Robinson names him remains toe-curling at best, despite the efforts of Eilidh West and Alistair Brown’s manful turn as Friday.

The Finale. Photo: Gordon Hughes

The Finale. Photo: Gordon Hughes

Pam Robertson’s musical backing is varied and unflagging, while Roisin Caulfield, Jade McLellan, Evie Thomas Yates and Sarah Rudden’s dancing is notably good. Special mention also for the costumes, particularly Ma and Willy Crusoe’s parade of ridiculous outfits.

Despite the caveats, much of Derek Ward’s direction is inventive and well thought out. There is clever use of the whole auditorium, and a particularly effective parade of jellyfish at one scene change – a welcome diversion from the huge gaps for apparently unnecessary sceneshifting elsewhere.

Overall, however, there is certainly enough pace and variety here to satisfy the broadest possible audience, and only small tweaks would be needed to make it even more impressive.

Running time 2 hours 30 mins including 1 interval
Edinburgh Tabernacle, 41-43 Inverleith Gardens, EH3 5PR
Wednesday 2 – Saturday 5 December 2015
Wed – Fri 7.30pm; Sat 2pm, 6.30 pm
Tickets from http://www.stserfsplayers.org.uk/tickets/tickets.html
Company website: http://www.stserfsplayers.org.uk/

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