Swallows and Amazons, Old Vic, Bristol
Wednesday 22 December 2010
"Better drowned than duffers if not duffers won't drown". Nowadays, Mr Walker would probably get arrested for the famous telegram permitting his four elder children to camp alone on an island on the basis that if they weren't self-sufficient enough to manage, they might as well be under the lake. Arthur Ransome's 1930 children's classic is altogether an odd choice for a dramatic adaptation, but the obsessive minutiae on boats and camping has mostly been scoured away, leaving a paean to children's imaginative capabilities and the burbling joy of putting to sea – well, lake – to prove that underage Britons never never never shall be duffers.
The set is ingenious in its lack of sophistication. The director Tom Morris understands that theatre is simply the best toy a child could want, and that anyone who lacks the wherewithal to mentally repurpose a couple of strands of wood as a boat, blue ribbons as water and flapping black plastic bags as dangerous birds really is a duffer.
John, Susan, Titty and Roger, crew of the Swallow, do have the benefit of stagehands, of course; they also have an onstage band, a proper enemy in the form of grumpy grown-up Captain Flint, and two seaworthy pirate girls, the Amazons, to war with.
It's odd that Helen Edmundson, who adapted the book with musical help from Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, has introduced so much dissent among the ranks: perhaps she can't conceive of a family who never argue, and certainly that is one of Ransome's most prodigious feats of imagination. There are other tweaks: the adults are no longer natives but slightly more politically correct barbarians, the story has been deftly adjusted for length and clarity and there's an odd prelude with an aged Titty, presumably to underline to children that this is Olden Times.
Mother, surely the gamest parent ever invented, is relegated to the background but the story has not, thankfully, been tamed: there is mayhem, if not quite murder, and small pirates will appreciate being drafted in for the big battle. Hannon's music is superb, although the cast – particularly Rosalie Craig as Susan and Amazons Celia Adams and Amy Booth-Steel – must do their considerable best with his banal lyrics. And I balked at a seven-year-old (Stewart Wright as Roger) sporting a beard, but then I am a barbarian. So drown me.
To 15 January (0117 987 7877)
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 2 Anti-gay hate preacher accidentally tweets 4,000 followers cartoon clip of him 'confessing' to be a 'homosexual sodomite'
- 3 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 4 Grayson Perry: London needs affordable housing because 'rich people don't create culture'
- 5 Kenya bus attack: Al-Shabaab militants kill 28 non-Muslims who failed to recite Koran
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Beyoncé '7/11' music video: Star bounces on bed in low-fi homage to viral video
Angelina Jolie confirms retirement from acting: 'I've never been comfortable on-screen'
Lana Del Rey rape video: Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services
Myleene Klass: Ed Miliband 'strikes back' by comparing UK's need for Labour's mansion tax to Hear'Say track