Buying into a jolly tale of innocence

Swallows And Amazons
Swallows And Amazons

PUBLISHED in 1930, Swallows and Amazons was the first in a series of 12 books by former foreign correspondent and angling columnist Arthur Ransome.

Set in 1929 in the Lake District it tells of the school holiday exploits of the Walker and Blackett children and their sailing dinghies.

Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons

They begin as enemies and end up joining forces to take on the grumpy uncle Jim, aka Captain Flint.

The Bristol Old Vic production, coming to the Lyceum next week through the Children’s touring Partnership, has adapted it with music played by the 13-strong ensemble of actors who also indulge in puppetry and physical movement.

But what contemporary relevance can there be in this jolly tale from the days of innocence between the wars?

Some of the principals involved in the touring production of the show – which originally premiered at the Bristol Old Vic – give their views on it.

Writer Helen Edmundson (whose adaptation of another novel, Coram Boy, won awards in London and on Broadway).

I tried to read the book when I was about eight and there was a lot of sailing vocabulary and I remember I never got into it. When Tom asked if I would like to be involved and I went back to it, I saw that beyond all the sailing stuff it started to appeal to me. I loved the characters and the dynamic between the siblings of both Swallows and Amazons. Childhood was lovingly observed. Swallows and Amazons is about children being allowed the freedom to play imaginative games and to learn from that. The idea of sailing is a metaphor for being set free and dealing with the way the wind changes is all the things that can happen in life.

Akiya Henry, Titty Walker of the Swallows, returning to Sheffield where she previously appeared in Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the Crucible and The Enchanted Pig at the Lyceum.

I remember it from being a kid and having it read to me by my father who did all the voices.

It says a lot about the world that Tom has created and Neil’s music too that we as adults are playing it truthfully. Right from the start in rehearsals Tom told us not to act how you think the child would act, but to play the truth of the essence of that child. If you don’t believe the truth of it you don’t believe this world. I just become totally lost in the world of Titty’s thoughts and imagination.

Because the whole world we have created is so honest, every adult and child can connect with it.

Celia Adams who plays Nancy Blackett, an Amazon

We’re a couple of feral children, really, and these nicely brought up children arrive on the island and think they have it to themselves and then we come out in warpaint and head-dresses. A lot of the little children, especially the boys, think that’s pretty cool. The audiences we get are quite mixed with lots of children in the school holidays. It’s a real family show where grandparents come along with their grandchildren. It appeals to different generations.

I grew up in a rural community, a little village outside Oxford, and I can remember playing out on summer days although I don’t think my mum would have allowed me to go sailing without supervision.

Richard Holt, John Walker

What’s great about the show is that the audience don’t question our ages or the mixed races on view, they are just immersed in the story and the characters.

Katie Moore, Susan Walker

If they buy into the characters they buy into the story. One of the things I think it captures is a child’s immediate responses and that desire: I want it now.