BBC Radio 7, 8 August 2010
Superficially speaking, Martin Jenkins' production of the Stevenson classic followed the example of other versions (notably the Disney film of 1950, with Robert Newton as Long John Silver), in providing a series of lip-smacking roles for character actors. As Silver, Peter Jeffrey thoroughly enjoyed playing a pantomime villain, with an outrageous west country accent and a series of whispered exclamations. His larger-than-life characterization was offset by Hugh Paddick's Ben Gunn, sounding slightly effeminate at times, but nonetheless possessed of a unique capacity for self-preservation. It was he who ensured that young Jim Hawkins (Ben Rodska) came to no harm, as he offered Jim sound advice about how to survive in a hostile environment. Jenkins' cast also included Wally K. Daly as Captain Flint, Silver's ageing parrot who kept repeating "Pieces of Eight! Pieces of Eight!" at regular intervals.
Nonetheless this Treasure Island offered further pleasures, other than the cast. Jenkins treated the story as a rite-of-passage drama involving the transformation of young Jim from naive innocent into resourceful hero, who not only outwitted Silver, but ensuired that the pirates did not get their hands on the treasure. Vocally speaking, Rodska sounded slightly weaker - particularly in the company of the older character actors - but his resilience emerged through a refusal to be quashed. Even in moments of extreme stress, Jim tried to find a way out.
Perhaps Treasure Island works better on radio than in other media: directors do not have to resort to the kind of visual cliches (the pirate ship overflowing with greasy-haired, gap-toothed navvies parroting naval jargon) which have found a new lease of life in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. Instead Jenkins could create atmosphere through sound - the whish of the sea, the echoes of the characters' voices as they were trapped in a tunnel. In fact, the echoes became so pronounced that I felt that Jenkins was treating the novel as a mental as well as a sea-going epic. This was an interesting idea: despite his basic goodness, Jim was obviously very affected by Silver's presence - so much so that he could not banish Silver's voice from his mind. The production ended with a medley of familiar sounds: the parrot, the pirates' song ("Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum") and Silver's familiar burr, suggesting that Jim would always be affected by his experiences. He remained at heart a good person; but there was always that feeling that Silver would come back to haunt him - especially as Silver himself managed to escape arrest. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why Treasure Island has been so popular in its incarnations (book, film, stage musical, radio adaptation), While good comes out on top, evil is never quite vanquished.