In his second production for the Old Vic, artistic director, Tom Morris comes into his own.
Juliet and Her Romeo sported a well executed and seamless production in terms of scenery but lacked the energy and vivacity of youth, among other things. Swallows and Amazons on the other hand spreads its energy through every means available. The adaptation was sparkling, the actors were effervescent, the scenery was fluid and effective while the supporting cast were flexible enough to mirror a child’s imagination.
I was about to write that the youth of the actors was probably what helped with the energetic production and then remembered that they actually weren’t all that young. The almost eight year old character Roger, played by Stewart Wright, sported a beard and a definite post-30s appearance but I had to think carefully to remember that. I barely noticed the facial hair until my companion pointed out.
Stuart McLoughlin, playing the eldest brother John, managed to lower his age and shone while still conveying a host of conflicting emotions. The responsibility for his younger siblings, his image in his father’s eye, his own enthusiasm at the adventure and the burgeoning self-esteem of a youngster. His beautiful voice carried off the determination in Neil Hannon’s musical achievement with an effortless performance.
Swallows and Amazons uses every means at its disposal to present a coherent production. Its purpose is to bring to life a story that is mostly created in the children’s imaginations. The clever direction kept me gazing wide-eyed from one corner of the stage to the other, and often behind me and to the side, as the cast mingled with us in a blend of story and reality, literally and metaphorically. I often missed the switch between soprano and tenor saxophone on one side of the stage while on the other the mother would blend into the orchestra with a violin in hand, while Mr Jackson would appear with a guitar and sometimes at the piano. The amazons would often interweave with the supporting actors by donning the blue overcoats that relegated them to a non-event.
Tom Morris achieved a magical outcome in this production which is as fluid as a dream and as energetic as a child’s summer holiday.
Swallows and Amazons is playing until 15 January at the Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol, BS1 4ED. 0117 987 7877. http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/