Swallows and Amazons

Arthur Ransome, adapted by Bryony Lavery
Storyhouse
Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester
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Watching this latest production by Storyhouse in the open air in Grosvenor Park, you become aware that summer is ebbing away as menacing autumn begins to encroach on our mind and our time.

At this time of year, it is also impossible to avoid the inevitability of childhoods ebbing away as the onset of the new school year sees change and moving on for youngsters and their families. The choice of Swallows and Amazons, therefore, could not be more fitting, offering as it does the promise of eternal childhood.

Director Katie Posner has the wonderful environment of Grosvenor Park within which to work and has skilfully immersed the action within the setting to deliver a heart-warming tale of childhood idyll. The plot is far from easy to stage, even within a conventional theatre, so the clever design of Rhys Jarman, alongside the imagination of the audience, is essential to create the world of lakes and islands where the Walker and Blackett families play.

The magic of the story of Swallows and Amazons is rooted in the idea of escapism as the Walker children, who are holidaying in the Lake District, are allowed to row out to an island where they make camp and meet Peggy and Nancy Blackett who live nearby. Lots of high jinks follow as the Swallows (the Walkers) and the Amazons (Blacketts) engage in mock battles, exploring and hunting for pirates.

It’s a delightful tale and very well adapted with wheelbarrows as boats, a single yet versatile stage set and a hugely talented and engaging cast who encourage audience participation. The “fight” scene, which almost turned into a mutiny with younger audience members, is a treat to behold.

Mitesh Soni is a huge hit with the audience as Roger, particularly when performing CPR on his pet monkey, and Claudia Grant catches the eye as the bubbly Tatty but really it is the whole cast that combine to make the production a success.

This time of year, your gaze may linger a little on certain scenes as you try to freeze the image for use in the darker seasons ahead and that is certainly true of Grosvenor Park. Glancing round at trees already starting to lose greenery and then at the delighted faces of the children exiting the performance, you feel that as long as they build the theatre in this park every summer, childhood will never be far away.

Dave Jennings