Coming to Chichester after a successful run in the West End over Christmas, this critically acclaimed production of Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s book provides a lovely sense of the halcyon days of childhood. It is just the ticket for a bleak January night.
Set in the 1920s, the play follows the exploits of the four Walker siblings and bolshy Blackett sisters as they spend a glorious summer messing about on their sailing boats; fighting pirates and exploring new islands.
Tom Morris (who worked on the National Theatre’s immensely successful Warhorse) directs a production whose ingenious and witty use of props and puppetry is wonderfully beguiling.
There was just enough audience participation at the end (I won’t spoil the surprises) to engage any children in the audience without intimidating them. The hardworking adult cast – who, if not playing a part, provide the props or play instruments – are uniformly excellent, with Stewart Wright’s comic performance as Roger the petulant eight-year-old standing out in particular.
The wonderful score by Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy – who has been penning joyful pop songs for over 20 years – elevates Swallows and Amazons far above the run of the mill piece of musical theatre. His songs and lyrics are both witty and memorable, and contribute a great deal to this utterly charming production.