WE DIDN'T MEAN TO GO TO SEAEastern Angles at the Hush House
A welcome revival for this skilful, affectionate adaptation, by Nick Wood, of the Arthur Ransome novel of 1937, the seventh of the Swallows and Amazons franchise.
The staging is wonderfully inventive, endlessly evocative of the little Goblin on which the children accidentally sail to Holland. A circular stage, audience two sides, a small sail, a stern with a tiller, bigger sails either end of the traverse area, sea-chart designs on the decks, and everything stowed neatly away below: tin mugs, maps, flags, ropes, jumpers and lamps.
A combination of soundscape – the wind and the waves mixed with snatches of Shostakovich, master of film music – and atmospheric lighting conjured up the voyage in all its moods; we could almost feel the spray and the sea water.
And four young actors re-created that innocent world before the war when children could go off on adventures unaccompanied - “ all alone in our own little world with only the sound of the waves rushing by ...”
Rosalind Steele is Susan, sea-sick, but scarily efficient, longing to take the helm and prove as good as a boy. Joel Sams is John, acting skipper, reefing the mainsail, fighting fatigue and the elements to bring the cutter safely to harbour. Christopher Buckley gives an outstanding performance as Able Seaman Roger, the youngest on board, outspoken and always hungry. And Matilda Howe is Titty [not Kitty or Tatty, thank goodness], who writes up the whole adventure in her exercise book.
They all stay just leeward of Blyton-esque caricature, and everyone gets the chance to play another character. So Howe is also the Dutch pilot, Buckley the owner of the boat who unwisely goes ashore for a can of petrol, Sams is a superbly imperious Mother and Steele the naval Father – John, like Hamlet, sees a spectral parent in the dark watches of the night.
We also meet Sinbad the kitten and Billy the donkey …
It's a marvellous tale, tautly directed by Ivan Cutting. Not only a spiffing adventure, but also richly written, with tempers fraying as the sea-mist closes in.
And, of course, a natural choice for Eastern Angles, set in the local geography of the Orwell Estuary, just a few miles as the gull flies from where the Hush House sits under those wide Suffolk skies.
photograph: Mike Kwasniak