Girls on board the pirate ship

Taking the wheel: Nisa Cole who plays Jem at the wheel of The Hispaniola in the Dukes production of Treasure Island
Taking the wheel: Nisa Cole who plays Jem at the wheel of The Hispaniola in the Dukes production of Treasure Island
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Boys own adventure Treasure Island has been given a female friendly facelift for Lancashire by a Coronation Street writer.

Debbie Oates, who has written more than 100 episodes of the popular soap, has adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure for The Dukes in Lancaster for the theatre’s Christmas production.

And having been brought up in the North West and recognising The Dukes’ proximity to the sea, Debbie has relocated Treasure Island to Morecambe Bay.

And that’s not the only twist to this modern retelling of Treasure Island. The central character, Jim Hawkins, has been replaced by a girl, Jem.

“Treasure Island is a boy’s own adventure but when I discussed it with the director, we wanted it to be a more balanced show. We agreed it should be a six-hander – three men and three women – and that the main character had to be a young girl rather than a boy,” said Debbie.

Debbie is making history by writing the first ever Dukes Christmas show to be performed in the round.

“I’ve performed in and written for theatre in the round before and what excites me is the proximity of the action to the audience,” she said.

Although best known for Coronation Street and writing iconic episodes including Becky Macdonald’s exit, the first Hindu wedding, and Mike Baldwin’s funeral, Debbie also has experience in writing for young people in theatre and on radio.

Brought up in Manchester, Debbie used to attend pantos regularly. Her mother, the late Gloria Oates, is a former High Sheriff of Lancashire whose shield hangs in Lancaster’s Shire Hall at the Castle.

Debbie first met Treasure Island director, Joe Sumsion at university in Bristol, where, by coincidence, the original story is based.

Debbie was an actor before her writing talent was recognised. She has written episodes of Fat Friends, Robin Hood, Primeval, Crusoe and Drop Dead Gorgeous for television as well as original radio and theatre plays.

Her connection with Coronation Street began 10 years ago, after learning her soap writing craft at Brookside.

“Corrie is a lovely job,” Debbie said. “Often writing is lonely so it gives me chance to work collaboratively. The writers meet up every three weeks to devise storylines, it’s really creative and exciting. I can’t imagine working on any other soap. It’s amazing to hear Rita open her mouth and say something I’ve written.”

The Lancaster theatre has many links with Coronation Street.

The longest serving scriptwriter, Peter Whalley, is a former board member. Actor Roberta Kerr, who recently returned to the drama after 20 years to play Wendy Papadopolous, Ken Barlow’s former mistress, has appeared in ten Dukes productions over the years.

Cherylee Houston, who plays Izzy Armstrong, is a patron of The Dukes, having first caught the acting bug at the youth theatre. She appeared in Treasure Island when the theatre performed it outdoors in 1991.

Treasure Island runs until January 5. For tickets, contact The Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or