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Swallows and Amazons review at Theatre Royal, York – ‘witty and winsome score’

The cast of Swallows and Amazons at York Theatre Royal. Photo: Ant Robling
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Helen Edmundson’s musical adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s novel Swallows and Amazons is proving to have quite a shelf life. Following its premier in Bristol in 2010, it has enjoyed a West End run, a national tour, and now this revival at York’s Theatre Royal.

It’s easy to see the appeal. There’s something endearingly old-fashioned about this tale of children playing at being pirates. Yet Edmundson’s version still manages to feel contemporary, helped no end by a typically witty and winsome score by The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon.

A cast of adult actors play the children’s roles in a production that is, first and foremost, a celebration of childhood and the power of imagination. Katie Sykes’ minimal set design allowing the wooden boxes on stage to be transformed into ships and deserted islands.

William Pennington is delightfully exuberant as the youngest child Roger, but it’s Anne-Marie Piazza and Rachel Hammond who prove most popular with the young audience as the “Amazon pirates”, complete with one of Hannon’s catchiest songs as their theme tune.

At more than two hours, the action flags at times, and the constant cries of “Hurrah!” can start to grate. Yet Hannon’s songs lift this production up another level and the buzz around the younger audience members as they leave suggests a new generation has been inspired to go exploring.

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Neil Hannon’s songs breathe new life into Arthur Ransome's resolutely old-fashioned yarn