Tale of imagination at award-winning theatre

Swallows and Amazons is at Chichester Festival Theatre from January 17-21.  PICTURE: MUST CREDIT SIMON ANNAND
Swallows and Amazons is at Chichester Festival Theatre from January 17-21. PICTURE: MUST CREDIT SIMON ANNAND
Rehearsals for Hedda Gabler by The Bench, April 2018. Picture by Jacquie Penrose PPP-180504-122002006

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Chichester Festival Theatre certainly has had a lot to celebrate recently. The theatre has won the Regional Theatre of the Year Award from the leading newspaper in theatre, The Stage.

But the show must go on, and this week at the award-winning theatre there is a tale of savages, capturing meddling pirates, and beating your mortal enemies.

Based on the 1930 novel by Arthur Ransome, with four siblings staying at a farm for their summer holidays, is Swallows and Amazons.

John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker receive a letter from their father who has granted them permission to camp on the nearby island. What ensues is an ongoing battle.

British playwright Helen Edmundson is well-known for adapting novels for the stage, and jumped at the chance to tackle Swallows and Amazons.

She says: ‘It was Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy) and his ideas. He and Tim Morris approached me to do a musical version of it, and I hadn’t really been interested in it. I looked at the book again, and I was struck by it. It’s got such a delightful story and I could see the characters.’

Set in a world of summer evenings, the wild imaginations of children take over the tale.

Helen adds: ‘It’s about children being allowed to go out and play by themselves, and using their imaginations. It’s about creating games and learning. That seemed to me, and all of us, like a really relevant thing to do.

‘We wanted to encourage children to have fun, and encourage them to play. It’s a very funny show and it’s interactive a lot of fun to create, to create the world of the story on stage. It has a lot of levels, and it’s lovely to do things for young people.’

Directed by Tom Morris, who also directed the international 1982 stage production of War Horse, it has recently been performed on stage to a West End audience.

Excited that the national tour will continue until May, Helen says: ‘The opening night in the West End was great. It was lovely and the company were wonderful. It seemed to go very well.

‘I’ve been to Chichester before and thought it was absolutely beautiful. I’m really looking forward to it, and I’d love to come and see it. It’s one of those theatres really. I’d love to see the production there.’

One of Helen’s most famous adaptions is Coram Boy, which was nominated for four Oliviver Awards in 2006; Best New Play, Best Director, Best Sound Design, and Best Performance in a Supporting Role. It also received six Tony Award nominations.

Swallows and Amazons is presented by the Children’s Touring Partnership, and will be at Chichester Festival Theatre from January 17-21.

Tickets cost £12 to £27 from Chichester Festival Theatre on (01243) 781312 or go to cft.org.uk.