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Kidnapped is ‘strongly recommended’ at Brighton Festival 2023

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped was written in 1865 and appeared as a weekly serial in the magazine “Young Folks”. Like many other adventure novels of the time it was based on historical facts, in this case, the ‘Appin Murder’ which occurred in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Many of the characters were real people, such as Alan Breck Stewart, the political situation of the time as well as the Highlanders being portrayed from multiple viewpoints and sympathetically.

Kidnapped - National Theatre of Scotland. Brighton Festival 2023. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic.
Kidnapped – National Theatre of Scotland. Brighton Festival 2023. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic.

This adaptation, visiting Brighton’s Theatre Royal after a tour of Scotland and Newcastle is being presented by the National Theatre of Scotland who, unfortunately if this production is an example of its work, rarely tours this far south! The company was established in 2006, its motto being “theatre without walls”, as it has no permanent home but tours all over Scotland and the Islands, to many different types and sizes of venues and communities, aiming to make theatre accessible for all. One of its flagship policies is to offer tickets for £5 to the young and disadvantaged.

Isobel McArthur and Michael John McCarthy have created this adaptation using the devices of having Stevenson’s wife, Frances (Kim Ismay), who nursed him through illness whilst he was writing this, narrate and speed us through much of the plot, as well as link and comment on the action through song. Ismay is superb here, demonstrating a folk-inspired singing voice, as well as a high level of communication with the audience. She is aided and abetted by a multi-talented team of actor-musicians, all of whom exhibit great physicality and expertise. This is true ensemble acting and some of the best that I have seen. Particularly impressive are Christina Gordon as Bloody Karen and Fatima Jawara, as the villain of the melodrama, Davie’s Uncle Ebenezer.

The two main protagonists are Davie Balfour (Ryan J MacKay) and the aforementioned Alan Breck Stewart (Malcolm Cumming). McKay copes with everything he is asked to do in the role, seemingly being continually surprised that he is the “hero” of the piece and MacKay swashbuckles his way through his part with obvious glee!

Gareth Nicholls’ co-direction is energetic as well as allowing the piece to breathe, as it needs to, especially in the second half which by necessity is plot-heavy, and he is greatly aided by Emily Jane Boyle as movement director and Claire Llewellyn as fight director. The apparently simple set, using trucks and some beautifully painted Scottish backdrops, was imaginatively designed by Anna Orton, as were the multitude of costumes.

The underwater scene at the start of Act Two is stunning, yet, when one thinks about it, simply staged – not only beautiful to look at, it is also most inventive: but I won’t say any more for fear of “spoiling” it for those who see it!

The whole piece is staged very “tongue-in-cheek”, in zany, comic book style, befitting the novel’s origins as a magazine serial. Brighton Festival must be congratulated on persuading Scotland’s National Theatre to find its way to the south coast in what must be the dramatic highlight of this year’s programme. VERY strongly recommended but there are few performances left…

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

A swashbuckling rom-com adventure by National Theatre of Scotland
Some are born great, some achieve greatness… and then there’s Davie Balfour.

19-year-old Davie has never left home, never been kissed, and never fired a gun. Armed with nothing but a hand-drawn map, he heads off on an adventure like no other – quickly realizing that he has a lot of catching up to do…

This riotous re-telling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure novella is jam-packed with 20th century pop music and 18th century romance. Performed by a dynamic ensemble of actor-musicians, Kidnapped is a colorful coming-of-age story – shot-through with Stevenson’s trademark blend of poetry, humor, and heart.

Join Davie as he navigates murderous foes, Jacobite outlaws, and the most inept crew of pirates this side of the Atlantic on a journey of eye-opening discovery and treasures untold.

Based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. Directed by Isobel McArthur and Gareth Nicholls.

18 – 20 May 2023, various times

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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