AT A time when most kids are more concerned with the latest iPhone app than playing in a field you’d think a decades old story would fall on deaf young ears.
Yet a cunning new take on the wonderful Arthur Ransome tale Swallows & Amazons has won fresh fans among kids and parents.
Part of the reason is the vision of director Tom Morris, the man who enjoyed massive success with the stage production of War Horse before it became a box office winner.
When most kids seem to communicate in text speak or have their face buried in a hand held device you would think the impact might be altogether different.
But Yorkshire-born Ransome’s story endures not least among a bright young cast who bring this simple tale of rival groups of children on a watery mission during school holidays to life.
“My childhood was very similar,” admits Sophie Waller, who plays Amazon Peggy Blackett.
“I was brought up with brothers so I’m quite a tomboy. It’s definitely my cup of tea. I definitely wasn’t a Swallow, let’s put it that way.
“That kind of play was really important then and it’s not been a problem now in the sense the children of our generation that have PlayStations, XBoxes and things have been so open to it.
“As a child everyone’s got it, that accessibility within them to play and to think.
“In the rehearsal process with Tom we were allowed to have an opinion and imagination. You have to in a show like this. We all found it one of those things you could delve into and have imagination.
“With this show you don’t get time to stop because you are being a wind machine or playing the piano and it really helps because you have to always be in it.
“You have to always be open to that imaginative process whether you are in the show or watching.”
That said, the physical manifestation of that imagination certainly puts the cast through its paces. “You’re running about being a pirate for two hours so you can’t really complain,” adds Sophie, who is looking forward to being in Sheffield, having visited her brother at university here.
“As an actor, for the audience to accept it is a boat you have to do all the delicate things that make it that, put everything into it and have it rocking. You have to help as much as you possibly can because there isn’t the big budget that some musicals have.”
She and the rest of this resourceful cast embrace both a sense of simpler times and the simple joy of play with relish.
The Swallows are played by Akiya Henry (as Titty Walker), Richard Holt (John Walker), Katie Moore (Susan Walker) and Stewart Wright (Roger Walker), while the wilder Amazons comprise Celia Adams (Nancy Blackett) as well as Sophie.
“We’ve got really fun parts to play,” says Celia. “They’re really energetic and excited children, kind of a bit feral and wild. The contrast on stage is quite big. You see the four children. Roger’s the most veering towards Amazons in some way. You’ve got Susan worrying about what they’ll eat for supper and John making sure they’re all wearing their jumpers. Whereas if we freeze, we freeze, but we’ll have had a good time.
“And they’re pretty harsh with each other. Nancy’s the older of the two Amazons, the Amazons captain she calls herself; she’s quite tough and could be quite mean and a bully. She’s not afraid of bruises.
“It’s a really lovely job to be part of. We’re all pretty tired, it’s pretty full on, playing instruments, creating puppets, hurling this around, so we’re busy, busy.
“It’s a nonstop show to be part of, but it’s a joy.”
Water way to relieve your childhood in front of thousands
THE Swallows went on a trip along the Thames to help them get their sea legs for this stage adventure – although thankfully they had more than sticks and bedsheets to move them along.
In spite of the use of props and pretend Akiya Henry says director Tom Morris told them not to act like a child –“but to take the imagination and the truth a child is feeling and portray that,” she says.
“What’s been really lovely is discovering and playing a child’s attitude and thoughts and feelings, but still being kind of like a grown-up. If it was slightly fake I think children would question it. But because we’re playing the truth of each individual character the child in the audience connects to that character.”
Hence no-one has really commented on the fact Stuart Wright has something other cast members don’t.
“I’m playing a seven-year-old, with a beard,” he laughs. “But it’s not about trying to look like a child, it’s about playing the essence of a child, but as adults.”
Akiya confirms that no one ever questions it, largely because of the adaptation and Tom’s stagecraft, which combine to suspend belief yet also create it.
“It really conveys the story of the children and their imagination.
“Using random inanimate objects to create a boat or a parrot, if we as actors don’t really buy into what we’re creating we can’t sell the story.
“It’s forcing us to work very hard in using our imagination as adults so ‘we’re using this and it is a parrot, honest’.
“Talking with adults afterwards they’re saying how it felt lovely, for an evening, to be allowed to be a child again.
“I’m really intrigued with the adults and what it provokes in them and what they’ve lost as they got older.”
Katie Moore nods in agreement. “That’s the lovely thing. The children in the story all feel like they’re grown up which is why when you watch it we’re not putting on young voices or skipping around.
“These children, in their heads, feel like they are absolutely mature and the tasks they’re fulfilling are as important as an adult’s tasks.
“It’s just like how children play and everyone feels like they become a child for the night.”