Review: Swallows and Amazons @ Theatre by the Lake

Adapting a well-loved childhood classic is always a risk, but in the case of Theatre by the Lake’s Christmas production of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, the risk pays off. Helen Edmundson’s script, directed by Stefan Escreet, brings the novel to life for a new generation, while not losing the magical and nostalgic feel of the book.

~ Caroline Hallam, Nadia Morgan, Rosalind Steele and Joel Sams: photo by Keith Pattison ~
~ Caroline Hallam, Nadia Morgan, Rosalind Steele and Joel Sams: photo by Keith Pattison ~

There was a wonderful moment at the start of the show, when there were audible intakes of breath from the audience as the lights went down. Excitement was running high – and it carried on running high for the rest of the evening, for both children and adults alike

For me, one of the most beautiful things about this production was that it reminded me what a play fundamentally is: play. And Theatre by the Lake’s Swallows and Amazons is all about playing.

Designer Martin Johns’ revolving set comprises a huge pile of wardrobes, suitcases and chests of drawers, all of which became the island. The props were similarly created from everyday objects: a parrot from a feather duster; a baby from hot water bottles; birds from garden shears; the Swallow from an upturned table. This creation of the extraordinary from the everyday exercised my imagination, inviting me to play along with the characters. While Theatre by the Lake steers clear of pantomimes, Swallows and Amazons drew me in with a childlike conspiracy of believing, making me feel far more involved in the story than I could have done from just shouting ‘He’s behind you’.

This sense of involvement is aided by the sense of space created by Andrew Lindsay’s superb lighting, and of course by the fabulously versatile actors, who not only play out the story’s various characters, but also sing and dance to Neil Hannon’s lively, catchy songs, and accompany on various musical instruments; I’m sure I wasn’t the only one surprised when only nine people took the curtain call at the end.

All in all, I found Swallows and Amazons a fun and joyous evening out: a performance not just for children, but for the child in all of us.

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