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Better Drowned Than Duffers. If Not Duffers Won’t Drown.

Last night the husband and I trooped of to the Festival Theatre to see Swallows and Amazons. The first amazing thing about this is that we actually went on a date….a date with just the two of us!  We’re not really a ‘date’ couple, and we like inviting other friends along if we are going to go out to something exciting. So we resisted the urges to invite as many people as we thought would like it and spent some quality time alone….well, alone with a whole audience of other people.

* We used Swallows and Amazons as one of the book-based place settings at our wedding, but sadly someone walked off with the book! Photo by Lillian and Leonard.

We were both a little nervous about whether the production would work, as anyone should be when one of their favourite childhood books is being adapted into something different. Will it live up to our memories? Will it be the world we imagined ourselves into? Will the characters speak in the way they did to us? Will the adventures be larger than life, or will they simply make a sham of the way we used to play?

What made the production work was that you were asked, as an audience member, to use all this imagination and memory that you associated with the book in order to make the play come to life. You couldn’t just sit back and let all the work be done for you – no, the outlines of the waves, the work of the telescope, the sweep of the cormorant’s wings…you were the one who had to make these things come to life. You had to invest in the play itself, and I’d say that the investment was worth it.


The use of props and the stagecraft involved in making the props come to life was amazing and added a childlike magic to the production. My favourite ‘special effect’ was using the telescope; a character would be looking through it, and on another part of the stage a large ring would frame whatever was being looked at, including when they were looking around trying to find or focus on things.


The music and lyrics for the production were written by Neil Hannon (of Divine Comedy fame) and they perfectly captured the spirit of the book. It wasn’t exactly a musical, rather there were songs and music that went along with the play…I think all of the characters except the four Walker children also played an instrument in the ever-revolving onstage band. The song ‘We are Amazon Pirates’ sung at the entrance of Nancy and Peggy Blackett made me instantly fall in love all over again with the two girls, who seemed to be part aspiring pirate, part aspiring bad-girl popstar.

The production sailed rather close to the wind in risking becoming a little bit panto in the final ten minutes. This was rescued by ‘sailing’ (or rather crowd-surfing) the small wooden boats through the audience, which made every single audience member bristle with delight and hope that the boats would come their way.

I loved the fact that there was a massive age range in the audience too, a mix of old-timers who had clearly loved the book as children, as well as parents who were bringing young children, clearly hoping to introduce them to the Swallows and Amazons for the first time. By the end of the production, we were clapping the most ridiculous of onstage situations. Like when Roger receives his reward for learning to swim…I’m sure that the grown man playing Roger can actually swim and didn’t infact learn that very evening on a waterless stage…but we were so caught up in the play that we all believed he had and was worthy of applause!

It’s got another two nights in Edinburgh and then it’s off to lots of other places…if you can, I’d heartily recommend it for getting in touch with your inner, imaginative, adventurous child.


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