Swallows and Amazons Review

York Theatre Royal until Saturday 24th August 2019

Reviewed by Michelle and Marcus Richardson


A taste of adventure, childhood innocence and endless days spent outside created memories of summer that stick with us way into our adulthood. Swallows and Amazons is a tale of such a summer, written by Arthur Ransome in 1930.

We follow a group of children, the Walkers, who are on holiday. They have been given permission from their absent father, via telegram, to take their boat, the Swallow, out onto the lake. With the wind behind their sail, their adventures begin as they create stories of pirates and Spanish conquistadors. York Theatre Royal brings this all to life to remind us what summer should really be about.

The cast of nine, played instruments, sang and of course acted. The Walker siblings made up of John, Susan, Titty and Roger, were the Swallows. John (Alex Wingfield), is the eldest and is the Captain of the ship. Susan (Laura Soper), is the First Mate and likes sticking to the rules. Titty, whose name elicited a giggle from the young audience, (Hanna Khogali), is the Able Seaman and dreams of adventure and pirates the most. Roger (William Pennington), is the youngest and the Shipsboy. The actors playing these children have great stage chemistry and really sell the desire of adventure each one of them has.

The Amazon Pirates, who are the Swallows arch enemy, at least at the start, are two sisters, Nancy (Anne-Marie Piazza) and Peggy (Rachel Hammond). Both do a great job of creating their persona as ruthless ‘pirates’. These two provided the audience with a lot of the comic element within their roles.

The adults of the show are played by Ellen Chivers (mother), Kieran Buckeridge (Uncle Jim/Captain Flint and also the Musical Director) and Ed Thorpe (Mr Jackson/Policeman), as well as their main roles they take on other characters at times. According to all the children all the adults are barbarians. Buckeridge playing along as Captain Flint was thoroughly enjoyable.

The whole cast were strong and each actor made sure the performance went smoothly as possible. The interaction between all the cast is wonderful, and the six who played the children were 100% believable. I certainly enjoyed Pennington’s young Roger, even though he was by far the tallest of the six, his mannerisms and innocence totally encapsulated the part. Khogali’s Titty was full of bravo, fearless and enthralling to watch. Honestly, I could not find fault in any of the actors, they all delivered splendidly, with such talent.

While we didn’t get to see an actual boat, we used our imagination, something that we often use in our childhood, but somehow gets forgotten as we get older. As with various shows directed by Damian Cruden, the stage is smart and simple but with tricks and hidden secrets. I loved how the cast played instruments, sung and acted too, it kept things lively and made sure the children in the audience didn’t get too bored. The show also used a few bird puppets, with the cast stepping in to control the birds at different times.

Swallows and Amazons is Damien Cruden’s last show, after 22 years, at the York Theatre Royal as the Artist Director at York Theatre Royal. This is fabulous show to end his tenure, ending on such a high.

This is a family friendly show, which is suitable for children, however I would say it is aimed at 6+. It’s important to remind ourselves of what summer should be about, yearning for the forgotten freedom of going out and creating your own adventures during the long summer holidays. It was lovely and so refreshing to see an era where children are not glued to televisions, tablets, or mobile phones. This sweet, innocent bygone tale is a real must for all, take your children, parents, grandparents, you will not be disappointed.