Review: Swallows and Amazons

Based on the book by Arthur Ransome (1930), Swallows and Amazons
has been adapted into a singing, dancing, laughing, engaging musical by Helen Edmundson and Neil Hannon. With methods not dissimilar to NIE’s Tales from a Sea Journey, the cast get fully involved in everything from the playing of instruments to creating the sailing ship caught in a storm.

The narrative follows the four Walker Children who are on holiday one summer in the Lake District, and take out their sailing boat Swallow. They come face to face with native ‘pirates’, the Blackett sisters also known as the ruthless Amazons. Adventures are found between the shores of ‘Rio’, their own ‘White Cat Island’, the terrifying ‘Cormorant Island’, and the dangerous houseboat of Captain Flint.

An ingenious use of physical theatre really captured the imagination of the audience, from young children to their parents, grandparents, and reminiscing folk reliving a wonderful childhood story. Circular frames focussed as the telescope, and ribbons, accompanied by a flat-capped actor flicking water, became the fast flowing lake around the Swallow’s bough. Directed by the mind that helped bring War Horse to stage (Tom Morris), this play encompasses childlike freedom and true suspension of disbelief, complete with a parrot made from a feather duster and pliers.

The cast were, to my surprise, all adults, but this did not detract in any way from the spirit of the play; instead, the choices gave a little extra laugh for the parents and older audience members whilst the children, as usual, accept and engage with whatever they are presented with. Stewart Wright was the youngest Walker child, Roger, despite being the tallest cast member with evidence of a five o’clock shadow across his chin. This however caused laughs at the beginning of the play but quickly ceased to matter as the story continued and his superb acting became evident. Similarly, Titty Walker was played by Akiya Henry, and her different skin tone made no effect on the believability of the play – it is a wonderful message of acceptance when life becomes that engaging that all differences go unnoticed. The two Amazon pirates (Celia Adams and Sophie Waller) were full of energy and mischief, and good old Captain Flint, aka. Greg Barnett, was a great foe-turned-friend.

This is, excuse the cliché, a treat for the whole family. I had wondered how they would take such a classic and beloved book and turn it into a successful stage-play, especially after the film was released in 1962 having real boats sailing in the Lake District. With incredible sense of storytelling, theatricality, and a real sense of fun, Morris’ direction has created a fantastic, feel-good piece of entertainment.

The play runs until Saturday 14th January at the Vaudeville Theatre. Click here for more info.
Image © National Theatre 2011

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