DramaFamilyNorth WestReview

Swallows and Amazons – Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester

Writer: Bryony Lavery

Director: Katie Posner

Reviewer: Abbie Rippon

Host the Jolly Roger flag, grab your oars and get ready to set sail on a voyage of adventure with Grosvenor Park’s family-friendly adventure Swallows and Amazons.

Adapted by Bryony Lavery from the stories by Arthur Ransome and based on his own childhood adventures in the Lake District, Swallows and Amazons tells the story of the Walker children and their summer adventure camping on Wild Cat Island.

This is an incredibly visual production and it looks fabulous. Rhys Jarmin’s costume designs are so vibrant without being garish. This is 1920s durable wear with a hint of pirate and native American chic. Accessorised with patchwork, feathers and neckerchiefs, the cast are kitted out ready for adventure.

The set is a little bit like a child’s adventure playground of yesteryear with logs to climb and numerous wooden cubby holes to stash treasures and gadgets. Puppetmaster Matt Hutchenson has created a myriad of creatures, beautiful birds filling the sky and dipping into the imaginary waters surrounding Wild Cat Island. Even adders and parrots and babes (oh my). It all really is quite charming.

An island isn’t an island unless it’s surrounded by water and boats play a huge part in this story. We have Captain Flint’s house-boat in the form of a sedan chair. Wheelbarrows make the bow and stern of the children’s infamous dingy ‘The Swallow’. You can see them rowing through the waters as they make their way on their adventures.

Once you have got over the visual charm of the play, one realises that this is definitely a show for younger audiences; every child in the theatre is absorbed in the spectacle of it all. For adults, it takes about fifteen minutes to get over the slight niggle of seeing the adult actors play (occasionally annoying and stereotypical) children. The first act is a little slow to get going and needs a few more changes in pace, but it definitely picks up in the second act. There are also some wonderfully humorous performances which really appeal to the younger audience members. Ian Harris as the bearded nurse and wimpy Roger played by Mitesh Soni have the audience in fits of giggles with their silly antics. Laura Dalgleish puts on a heart-warming performance as the children’s mother and Dominic Rye receives well-deserved applause as Mr Dixon, who can never get a word in edgeways.

There are occasions when the dialogue gets lost. Maybe it’s the weather, or the rustle of family audiences enjoying their picnics, but for whatever reasons quite a chunk of the words get missed which makes following the plot a bit of a challenge at times.

The live sound and songs that accompany the children on their adventures matches their exploits, it’s rustic, quirky and enchanting. There is something about hearing and seeing a man playing the saw to add eerie effect, one can’t help but crack a smile. There is plenty of audience interaction to keep the children entertained, including turning the stage into a ball pit during the battle with Captain Flint.

All in all this in an uplifting, fun-filled voyage into the imagination. It can take a little time to get into, but it’s worth it.

Runs in rep until 26 August 2018 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Simply charming

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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