Swallows & Amazons at York Theatre Royal review

Arthur Ransome’s classic book Swallows & Amazons is tastefully and imaginatively adapted for the stage by Helen Edmundson. The story follows the Walker family as they take part in exciting adventures on their very own island. When rival pirates the Amazons threaten to spoil their fun, can the two gangs join up and defeat the evil Captain Flint?

What’s particularly lovely about this production is its ability to be mesmerising yet subtly tongue-in-cheek. The audience knows from the start the children aren’t really on an abandoned island facing pirates and treasure-thieves. Yet that makes it all the more thrilling, and all the more touching.

The cast play the children beautifully, with wide-eyed innocence yet without the need for stereotypes and silliness. The direction from Damian Cruden and John R. Wilkinson shines here.

Alex Wingfield as John leads the crew with a masterful and respectful charisma and Laura Soper brings fun and charm to the potentially quite dull role of sensible Susan. William Pennington’s Roger doesn’t allow much room for subtlety but Pennington plays the role of a nearly-eight-year-old with wide-eyed innocence and the excitement many of us adults have forgotten. The weak link for me is Hannah Khogali as Titty, who overacts the others off the stage a little sometimes.

Anne-Marie Piazza and Rachel Hammond as Peggy play the great comedy duo Nancy and Peggy, drawing plenty of giggles from the audience with their bolshy fall-outs. Kieran Buckeridge as Uncle Jim/Captain Flint also plays the part well, suddenly going from our antagonist to our hero in one swoop!

The simple yet ever-changing set from Katie Sykes works well with the clever lighting by Richard G Jones. Overall, this is a very slick piece and the children in the audience are utterly mesmerised.

The play is a delightful one, though the music composed by Neil Hannon could do without so many reprises. The whole thing is just far, far too long for a children’s show that ultimately doesn’t have a great deal of plot. We’re hardly watching the great works of Shakespeare and the two hour show will find people losing their concentration. This would be an absolute winner of a piece if it came in at one hour and a half – but it pushes itself too much which makes the production drag in places.

Catch Swallows & Amazons at York Theatre Royal until 24th August.

Photograph credited to Ant Robling

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