Review: Swallows and Amazons, York Theatre Royal

The cast of Swallows and Amazons at York Theatre Royal.
The cast of Swallows and Amazons at York Theatre Royal.
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Had I passed any cute kittens on the way home from this particular night at the theatre I would have been obliged to be deliberately mean to them. It would have helped counterbalance having overdosed for two and a half hours on show which might just be the most wholesome thing known to man.

Swallows & Amazons is artistic director Damian Cruden’s swansong for York Theatre Royal and the production feels like a love letter to the venue where he has spent the last 20 or so years proving that the imagination is the most powerful sense we all possess.

The world of Swallows & Amazons, where parents are content to pack their kids off on a sailing boat with just a can of corned beef and a hand-knitted woollen tank top, doesn’t exist now. It probably didn’t even exist when Arthur Ransome published the original book back in 1930.

But who cares? This is life viewed through a toasted crumpet which has been buttered, smothered in jam and buttered again. And you know what? I rather liked it.

Performed by a supremely talented ensemble, who are also the house band and skilled puppeteers, the intimate staging means the audience also feels part of their gang and had they handed us one of their catapults we’d have probably taken on Captain Flint ourselves.

While not an out and out musical, it is the songs where this production really shines. Adapted by Helen Edmundson, with The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon adding his trademark irreverent compositions, it’s a winning combination - I mean who can resist a song which rhymes ‘water’ with ‘mindless slaughter’?

It’s easy to dismiss Swallows & Amazons, where the most outrageous thing anyone does is shake their fist in anger, as terribly old fashioned, a story with little relevance for today’s Fortnite obsessed generation.

Yes, the Walker children wouldn’t last two minutes in your average state school - Roger in particular probably wouldn’t make it to morning break - but this is pure escapism of the very best kind.

Farewell Mr Cruden, you will be missed.

To August 24, yorktheatreroyal.co.uk