Swallows and Amazons could be a tough sell for the Festival Theatre. A week shy of February break for local schools and subject matter that, while family friendly, reeks of another age, means that they’ll be relying on the sentimentality of childhood fans and nostalgic grandparents to put bums on seats.
For the most part the production is a sympathetic, well crafted re-telling of the adventures of some jolly middle-class children messing about in boats in the Lake District. It’s what you expect Ray Mears’s childhood might have been like if there were four of him – we even have a scene where the production methods of charcoal are discussed, shortly before a song about how bored one of the characters, Titty, is. It’s easy to empathise with Titty. The Bristol Old Vic has created a beautiful world, infused with all the magic and ingenuity of childhood; the parrot is a pair of pliers and a feather duster, the performers take massive dives into the water with a little help from some stage hands and boats Swallow and Amazon sail off into the audience as a finale. Their characters are well portrayed, the sisters Amazon unfairly hogging all the best lyrics and lines. Yet the subject matter the company has chosen to adapt is safe at best.
The children experience mild peril in a thunderstorm and manage to foil some burglars, even if they don’t manage to catch them (unlike every other fictional bunch of pesky kids). What scares a modern parent more than anything is the notion of blithely sending a seven-year-old who can’t swim off on a boating adventure with no adult supervision or water wings.
For those of us who spent the best part of childhood hiding in apple barrels with Jim Hawkins, outrunning Arawn’s sinister outriders with Taryn and listening to the terrifying thuds coming from the church crypt with John Trenchard, Swallows and Amazons is a pleasant evening of well sculpted theatre that your Morningside granny would thoroughly approve of – while you wait to steal your brother’s copy of The Hunger Games.
Runs until February 4