An excellent play that is well-worth seeing

Helen Johnston reviewed Swallows and Amazons at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield
Helen Johnston reviewed Swallows and Amazons at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield

Just as children use their imaginations to create all kinds of adventures for themselves, so the producers of Swallows and Amazons have used amazing inventiveness to create an incredible world of make-believe.

Based on the book by Arthur Ransome, this musical adaptation takes us on a boat ride aboard the Swallow with the four Walker children to Wildcat Island.

They set up camp and claim the island for their own – only to be challenged by the piratical Blackett sisters in their boat Amazon, who insist the island belongs to them.

Soon they are locked in battle for ownership of the island, before deciding to join forces against the evil Captain Flint, also known as the Blacketts’ Uncle Jim (Greg Barnett).

The book was published in 1930 and the show has a Famous Five feel to it, the children having the freedom to set off adventuring without adults during the summer hols.

All that was missing was lashings of ginger beer.

But good stories never go out of fashion and my children loved it, especially the audience interaction in the second half when they got to throw sponge ‘rocks’ at Uncle Jim and pass models of the Swallow and Amazon back through the audience.

The hardworking cast were always on stage, either in their main roles or producing special effects such as the sound of the wind, the rippling water, views through a telescope, and the boats ploughing through a storm.

There was even a homemade parrot – it’s amazing what you can do with a feather duster and a pair of secateurs.

The children were played by adults with the youngest, seven-year-old Roger, being played by a very funny Stewart Wright - who is taller than all the others and has a stubbly beard.

The bit where he dives into the ‘water’ to go swimming had the audience in stitches. His portrayal never descends into silly childishness, but rather captures the essence of child-like behaviour in a captivating way.

Peggy Blackett (Sophie Waller) and her sister Nancy (Celia Adams) are excellent as the fearsome duo challenging the Walker family.

With their Lancashire accents and their painted faces, they contrast perfectly with the upper class and rather more timid Walker sisters, and bring an extra comic element to the proceedings.

This was a night for suspending disbelief and it was surprisingly easy to do thanks to a great script by Helen Edmundson, and entertaining music and lyrics from The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon.

The show is directed by Tom Morris, who also co-directed the stage version of War Horse to great acclaim.

Time to put away the video games and smartphones kids, and set sail to have yourselves a real life adventure.

By Helen Johnston

Star Rating HHHH