Review: Swallows and Amazons

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West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

It’s a long time since children ate corned beef sandwiches for tea and thought lemonade a simply splendid treat.

So it’s testament to Helen Edmundson’s skill as a playwright and Tom ‘War Horse’ Morris’ directorial talent that this adaptation of Swallows and Amazons is such a success.

While faithful to Arthur Ransome’s original 1929 story, there’s none of the stuffiness that can make some children’s classics such a difficult read almost a century on.

Technically it’s a triumph and one that doesn’t rely on flash, bang pyrotechnics. Instead, embracing the post-war make do and mend approach, a couple of pieces of ribbon become the waters of the Lake District, a feather duster and a pair of garden shears become Captain Flint’s parrot and a couple of bed sheets double as sails.

However, to describe it as the kind of production adults think children should see would be to sell it short. Yes, it’s unremittingly nostalgic about a time when kids had imaginations not computers, but it’s also beautifully staged, superbly acted and thanks to music by the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon it’s also truly memorable.

My nephew has never read the book, he’s never pretended a stick was a musket and I suspect he’s not yet been introduced to corned beef, but when he said it was one of the best things he’d ever seen, he meant it.