As well as acknowledging the need for practical items such as a barometer and plenty of provisions, the Walker children in Arthur Ransome’s children’s novel Swallows and Amazons display amazing imaginative power, seeing themselves as conquistadors and intrepid explorers as they set out to camp on Wild Cat Island during a Lake District family holiday.
That imaginative leap is reflected in the stagecraft of Swallows and Amazons, a musical version of the story performed by the Children’s Touring Partnership in collaboration with the Bristol Old Vic and the National Theatre and playing at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre until Saturday.
As well as the six main actors, there is an equal number of actors/musicians/stage hands on show most of the time, ready at a moment’s notice to rustle curtains to reveal the presence of wind, to move hoops around to depict what the children can see through their telescope or to shake blue ribbons which effectively create the waves as Swallows puts ‘to sea’.
This is a charming production, full of fun and adventure and even daring to give a little more ‘edge’ to some of the children than was there in Ransome’s classic - John, ruffled that Captain Flint has called him a ‘liar’ taking out his anger rather too sharply on Susan during the bid to capture Amazon; Roger, and particularly Titty, being sulky and petulant when a lack of wind means the planned ‘war’ with the Amazon girls has to be postponed.
Akiya Henry depicts Titty’s ability to lose herself in a fantasy world extremely well and Stewart Wright, bearded and physically the largest member of the cast, beautifully underplays seven-year-old Roger, desperate to be seen as grown up but still harbouring the fears of a young boy.
Richard Holt as 12-year-old John, meanwhile, nicely portrays a boy longing for adventure but also keen to ensure he lives up to the standards and teachings of his Navy Captain father, who is serving abroad.
There is music, song and dance and, as with Ransome’s book, the audience is quickly absorbed in the story and in the imaginative world of a group of children enjoying the great outsdoors in the less health and safety-conscious days of the late 1920s.
Definitely worth going along to Blackpool and seeing.