SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS
Children's Touring Partnership
at Chichester Festival Theatre
Books for children sit well on the stage. Bold characters, lively dialogue and fast-paced plotting draw the audience in and keep them engrossed in the action.
Swallows and Amazons is one of the latest, off on the road again after its festive run in the West End. Given the creative team behind this Bristol Old Vic production – Helen [Coram Boy] Edmundson for the book, Neil [Divine Comedy] Hannon for the score and Tom [War Horse] Morris directing – it's no surprise that this turns out to be a marvellous show, true to Ransome's classic novel, brilliantly brought to life.
Pleased I waited for the Chichester date; my £10 seat [roughly where prompt corner would be on a proscenium stage] afforded me an excellent view of the open waters of the thrust, with the full-sized mast suspended above ready to swoop down for the dénouement.
The staging was endlessly inventive. The telescope portholes, the reeds turned boathouse, the actors donning faded blue overalls to take their turn as musicians or stage hands. Wind and spray for the Swallow in full sail, a feather duster and secateurs for Polly the Parrot. One of the high points was what Shakespeare might have called a masque: Titty's "fanciful, fictional" dream of pirate plunder.
The music was not memorable, but it was wonderful to see a charcoal-burner stooping over the bellows as he played his fiddle, with one of the Amazons on piano and Mrs Walker on bass for Let's Make The Most Of It, a lively upbeat pastiche.
The show is a hymn to the power of children's playful imagination: the town becomes Rio, grown-ups Barbarians. And at the end, a fun-filled finale, with foam missiles, slomo fighting and the grown-ups pitching in and playing the game, Captain Flint walking his own plank before the children vow to return next summer, and the two boats sail off, hand to hand, over the shark-infested audience.
A strong ensemble – all the children played, Blue Remembered Hills fashion, by adults – with outstanding work from Akiya Henry as Titty, whose reminiscence sparks the action, and Stewart Wright as Roger the ship's boy, a convincing seven-year-old despite his burly frame and full beard.