Theatre review: Swallows and Amazons

Vaudeville Theatre, London – 12th January 2012

I never read Swallows and Amazons as a child, which is surprising since I munched my way through so many books.  I can picture it through, a pale yellow cover protected in an ill-fitting plastic library sleeve, its thickness, its wide margins, its black-and-white line drawn illustrations.  I don’t know what it was about it that was so unappealing but something put me off, so when I saw cheap tickets to a stage performance, I felt curious. 

The story is a childhood adventure of the sort that children dream of having but wouldn’t happen in today’s anxiety-laden times: taking a boat to an island to camp out.  Impossible to portray on the stage, maybe, but this production achieved it admirably.  Clever use of props recreated boats and waves, birds and creeks, making the suspension of disbelief effortless.  The children were played by adults, which produces an interesting effect, being both comical and touching.  We often think of children as being miniature adults-in-waiting but having adults play them highlights the qualities of childhood that become hidden or suppressed as adults: vulnerability, disappointment, lack of inhibition, eager excitement.  We may feel them but we don’t show them. 

The show was well-acted, clever, rewarding and entertaining, and for two hours I was transported back to the wonder of childhood.  At the end of the performance, the two boats were handed to the front row of the audience who passed them back through the auditorium.  I felt a childish delight when one of the boats came to me.

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