While this is a sometimes flawed production, with an occasionally uneven pace and a script that could do with more depth, its importance should not be underestimated.
What makes the production quietly revolutionary is its integration of British Sign Language and captioning. Brigham is a hands-on in-the-community kind of leader and staging this production in a city that, she says in her programme notes, has one of the largest deaf populations in the country outside London, is an excellent flag planted. That there were a number of people communicating via sign language in the auditorium seats is a testament to the vision.
The story itself is largely well served. Jim Hawkins becomes a young woman, Gem Hawkins, as in Bryony Lavery’s National Theatre adaptation, one of a number of roles played by two actors on stage together. It is an intriguing decision to have some characters double like this; the soul of Oraine Johnson’s Captain Flint is manifest on stage by Becky Barry, but the script never gets under the skin of why.
The question doesn’t get in the way of a joyous production and having two Gems for the price of one when they are as engaging as the two actors here – deaf dancer and actor Raffie Julien and April Nerissa Hudson – is a bargain. Both have the ineffable quality of connection with the audience that is vital for all shows, but especially at Christmas. Capturing a wide-eyed innocence and joy of adventure as they set off aboard the Hispaniola (the BSL for which is beautiful) as the avatars of the young audience members, they are both perfectly cast.
The show is almost stolen by Nadeem Islam who, as Trelawney, gives an irresistible comic turn and Alex Nowak as Ben Gunn is amusingly surreal.
This production will tighten over the run, ironing out one of the flaws, but half the applause here belongs to a greater cause.