Winter 2011/12

Chichester Festival Theatre and The Children's Touring Partnership in association with The National Theatre present The Bristol Old Vic production

Swallows and Amazons

A new musical by Helen Edmundson and Neil Hannon. Based on the book by Arthur Ransome

Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons

Festival Theatre

17 - 21 Jan 2012


All aboard The Swallow! Follow Captain John and his able crew as they set sail to Wildcat Island on an exotic adventure to encounter savages, capture dastardly pirates and defeat mortal enemies.
An action-packed musical adventure for the whole family, Swallows and Amazons is a story of an idyllic era of endless summer evenings and the beauty of youthful imagination.

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This delightful and gloriously imaginative production is directed by Tom Morris, who also directed the international smash hit War Horse, is written by Helen Edmundson, writer of the National Theatre’s astonishing Coram Boy, with music by Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy. Swallows and Amazons is presented by the Children’s Touring Partnership whose recent production of Goodnight Mister Tom, starring Oliver Ford Davies, received public and critical acclaim.
'A terrific production - warm hearted,
affectionate and fun'
4 Star RatingThe Daily Telegraph

Winter 2011/12




The Telegraph
5 Star Rating

Hurrah! The Swallows and Amazons have sailed up the Strand and docked at the Vaudeville for Christmas, and, if you find a better family show on offer this festive season, feel free to send me the dreaded black spot.

First seen at the Bristol Old Vic last year, the production is funny, fresh inventive, and at times deeply affecting. This is a remarkable achievement as Arthur Ransome’s famous children’s novel, first published in 1930, seems a touch remote and stuffy these days. I remember struggling with all the nautical terms as a child, and found the children dull and priggish, especially in comparison with the anarchic delights of Richmal Crompton’s William stories.

But here it all works like a dream, almost literally so, as the story begins with the now elderly Titty (no nonsense here about changing the name to something less likely to cause stifled sniggers) looks back on her childhood adventures in the Lake District, creating them afresh from the cluttered attic of her memory.

As you would expect from the director Tom Morris, one of the key talents behind the National Theatre’s unstoppable international hit War Horse, this is a show that plugs directly into the audience’s imagination. A parrot is conjured out of a feather duster, scary cormorants are suggested by flapping black plastic bin-bags, and a couple of ribbons create the rippling waters of the lake.

Helen Edmundson’s adaptation perfectly captures the period flavour (“Can we have buttered eggs for tea? Hurrah!”), while the adult actors playing the children give fresh, strongly characterised performances that navigate a safe passage between the twee and cute.

As well as the inventiveness of the staging, the show’s secret weapon is a wonderful score by Neil Hannon, best known for a memorable slew of melodic and witty pop hits under the name the Divine Comedy.

He has a wonderful number here for the Amazons, the spunky Blackett sisters, deliciously played by Celia Adams and Sophie Waller in their war paint and Red Indian plumage, who sing: “We took to the lake like a duckling takes to water/ And embarked on a life of crime and mindless slaughter.”

But there are also passages in the production that evoke what Hardy called “the self unseeing”, by which he meant the lack of self-consciousness of childhood. As a result, as well as being great fun, the show, at least for adults in the audience, creates a strong undertow of emotion. It seems like an idyllic image of all that we have lost, but which we fleetingly recover while the performance is in progress.

Among the cast, Akiya Henry shines particularly brightly as a plucky, captivating Titty, but there is splendid work, too, from Richard Holt as the earnest oldest sibling, John, Katie Moore as his sensible sister Susan, while Stewart Walker, a big burly chap with a beard, plays the seven-year-old Roger to hilarious comic effect.

This is a show of wonder and delight, and after its West End run it tours nationally until May. Catch it if you can.

Evening Standard
4 Star Rating

Tom Morris played a significant part in the success of War Horse. Now, as artistic director of Bristol Old Vic, he's struck gold again with this inventive and enjoyable adaptation of Arthur Ransome's classic Swallows and Amazons. And he's persuaded Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy to contribute witty, satisfying music.

The story is simple. Four polite children, the Walkers, are spending the school holidays in the Lake District and take a borrowed boat, Swallow, to an uninhabited island. They think of themselves as explorers, and soon enough adventure comes their way: they encounter two fierce sisters, the Blacketts, whose craft the Amazon seems at first a daunting enemy - and then an ally as they tussle with the grumpy houseboat owner Captain Flint.

Helen Edmundson's script is faithful to the spirit of the novel, which is set in the summer of 1929.

The characterisation is generous, and Morris directs the ensemble with warmth, savouring the childish zest for pretending to be pirates while also honouring the detail and expansiveness of Ransome's writing.

The children are played by adults. Stewart Wright, who's over 30, is seven-year-old Roger, and although this seems incongruous it generates a good deal of amusement, thanks to Wright's ability to appear simultaneously sturdy and delicate.

Akiya Henry exudes an easy enthusiasm as the unfortunately named Titty Walker, while Richard Holt and Katie Moore are gently convincing as the other siblings. There's also memorable work from Celia Adams and Sophie Waller as the Blacketts.

Props are used sparingly and with considerable ingenuity. Two blue ribbons, stretched across the stage, suggest the sea. A duster and some secateurs together become a parrot. Bin bags are transformed into a sinister cormorant. There are plenty of other neat touches in Robert Innes Hopkins's design, and all the music - mostly uncomplicated, yet with a few eccentric gestures - is played onstage with admirable economy. When Swallows and Amazons was foisted on me as a child I didn't like it. Ransome's narrative felt too quaint as well as too steeped in a love of sailing and a certain kind of folksy Englishness. But in this reimagining it seems a rich and appealing fantasy, which pays aptly Christmasy homage to the power of the imagination. Following its London run, it will deservedly tour nationwide.

The Times

4 Star Rating

I have always been a bit of a barbarian when it comes to Swallows and Amazons. This children’s classic from 1930 isn’t hard to navigate like Moby Dick, I know. Yet on all my failed attempts to set sail with John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker for their summer-holiday escapade, I’ve let myself get bogged down by Arthur Ransome’s prose.

No longer. This musical play by the writer Helen Edmundson and the songwriter Neil Hannon (aka, the Divine Comedy) went down so well when it opened at the Bristol Old Vic last Christmas that it’s now docked in the West End briefly before embarking on a tour next year. And what a wonderful piece of theatre it is. As the adults playing these 7 to 12-year-olds stride around in their knee-length shorts preparing for their island jaunt, you melt — because they’re singing a song about facing the unknown, expressed in lines about packing the corned beef. And by the time they’ve set sail in Swallow, with castmates extending blue ribbons on either side of the boat to suggest — sensationally well — its progress through the water, you can’t help but climb on board.

The director Tom Morris uses overt stagecraft to co-opt our imagination here, as he did when he co-directed War Horse. The supporting actors also play instruments — strings and piano, mostly — and work the props. As the two Northern pirates from the rival boat, Amazon, ululate their way through the stalls, as Polly the parrot gets represented by a feather duster and a pair of secateurs, we always know that what we’re seeing is all let’s pretend.

Which is the perfect way to involve us in a story that’s all about let’s pretend. There is plenty of wry humour here, but Morris never allows it to undermine our sense of wonder. Indeed, there is a delicious sense of danger ahoy at the end of Act I as James Farncombe’s lighting dims on Robert Innes Hopkins’s set and the two sides declare war.

If the second half isn’t as thrilling as the first suggests it will be, and indeed if two-and-a-half hours is a few minutes too many, the home-made sense of daring endures and the cast of 13 do full justice to Hannon’s smart songs. Richard Holt nails the way that 12-year-old John goes from captain-of-school calm with children to unease with an adult; burly Stewart Wright milks the part of innocent little Roger for all its worth but not a drop more; Katie Moore is a treat as sensible Susan; Akiya Henry is plucky but never abrasive as Titty; Celia Adams and Sophie Waller are adorably unfriendly pirates.

So it’s a thoroughly entertaining, beautifully balanced show for all ages: sincere but not strait-laced, playful but not facetious. Maybe 85 million readers aren’t wrong after all.

Booking Info

Running Time 2 hours and 30 minutes including interval

Tue - Sat eves 7.30pm
Wed, Thu & Sat mats 2.15pm

Tue - Thu eves & mats
A £27 B £24 C £15 D £10
Fri & Sat eves
A £30 B £26 C £18 D £12
Friends & concessions
£2 off top three prices Tue - Thu eves and mats

Groups 10+

10% off Tue – Thu eves & mats

Schools 10+
£8.50 per pupil, one free teacher with every 10 paid
Half price tickedts for under 16s on top three prices for all performances

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