Swallows and Amazons - 2014 - Credit Simon Annand (13)

Swallows and Amazons. Bristol Old Vic
An elderly Titty enters her attic, finds a dusty photograph of a lost summer holiday, and memories of one August in 1929 in the Lake District come flooding back.
In Tom Morris’ reinvention of Arthur Ransome’s idealic childhood adventure we never really leave the attic with every prop a piece of junk inventively used to create one of the theatre’s most memorable ever shows.
Laced with fantasy and Titty’s memorable dream sequence of giant parrots, flapping cormorants and conspiring pirates the musical drama is a DIY spectacle that’s very funny, very dramatic and always true to the spirit of Ransome’s original story without a lake in sight.
Helen Edmundson’s economic script combined with Neil Hannon’s music and lyrics are one of the strengths of the two act play that fuses a strong narrative and inticate plot with exceptional characterisation of children by adults.
The six main characters are supported by the players in blue – a motley crew of overall clad furniture removal men who appear to live in Titty’s attic but double up as parrots, pirates and musicians as the drama dictates.
Ransome gave each of his child characters distinct and clearly recognisable attributes we all see in children – and then exagerates them. Morris does the same trick with his cast creating enjoyable caricatures of childhood in Swallows and Amazons.
Hence Stuart Mcloughlin’s John is noble and responsible but fragile in his desperation to emulate his terribly British father. Jennifer Highham was a wonderfully focused Titty in her total refusal to accept the adult world about her, but embrace her Robinson Crusoe fantasy. Tom Bennett’s Roger was the one character the children in the audience most identified with, in his strops and sulks – and desperation to be seven years old and taken seriously. And Bethan Nash’s Susan was a big sister delight as her mothered Roger, organised supper and disapproved of the Amazons.
Peggy and Nancy played by Millie Corser and Evelyn Miller as the Amazons had Cumberland accents that were one part Old Peculiar beer and one part slate roofed lakeland cottage with their earthy vowels and prosaic oaths.
Give me theatre like this any day with its wild inventiveness, its beautiful songs, its inclusiveness and its careful blending of all elements of performing arts.
Is this a story too remote for today’s ipad children or is it really aimed at their parents and their memories of Ransome’s novels?
Perhaps in part, but the children present responded, applauded and pelted Captain Flint with fake rocks in the climactic battle suggesting they couldn’t get enough of the action and the high spirits on stage.
Harry Mottram    Five stars    More at www.childrenstheatremagazine.co.uk
Reviewed Tuesday 2 December 2014. The play runs daily to 15th January 2015. Details at www.bristololdvic.org.uk