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Swallows and Amazons review at Storyhouse, Chester – ‘warm and imaginative’

The cast of Swallows and Amazons at Storyhouse, Chester. Photo: Mark Carline
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Both writer Bryony Lavery and director Katie Posner have consciously chosen to keep this adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons rooted firmly in its 1929 setting.

Along with storybook set and costumes by Rhys Jarman, this gives the production a period style that audiences have come to expect of Storyhouse’s children’s classics. But they don’t completely compensate for the fact that both the story and its language have the feel of a museum piece. Taking the tale so literally from the page makes it difficult at times to connect with the characters, but the sheer energy of the storytelling manages to suspend our disbelief.

It’s the glorious imagination in the staging that makes this production work, from the transformation of wheelbarrows into boats to the indulgent playfulness of the adult actors playing children. There are outstanding performances from Claudia Grant as the reluctant tomboy Tatty and a beautifully crafted turn from Mitesh Soni. In fact Soni almost stops the show on several occasions, especially in a very cleverly played swimming lesson scene and when administering CPR to his toy monkey.

A band of actor-musicians provide integrated musical performances, doubling as the onlooking parents and guardians.

Whilst the story feels extraordinarily dated, the quality of the production lifts it to a point where it feels vibrant and alive, successfully combining a sense of wonder with cosy nostalgia.

Inside Chester’s new £37m Storyhouse theatre

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Verdict
A warm and imaginative staging of the children’s classic
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