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Swallows And Amazons (Bristol Old Vic)

The Christmas show to beat in the West Country.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Swallows And Amazons cast. Tom Bennett (Roger Walker) Bethan Nash (Susan Walker), Jennifer Higham (Titty Walker) and Stuart Mcloughlin (John Walker)
© Simon Annand

Swallows And Amazons has returned to Bristol and one can rejoice that this most glorious of shows can be seen this Christmas once again. Stealing an old adage from Tynan, 'I couldn't be friends with anyone who doesn't love this s play'. It's a wonderful paen to the joys of childhood; to the games, the creativity and sheer delight of long summer days. Tom Morris' production is also a celebration of the lo-fi joy that theatre can produce. Utilizing the props dotted around the stage, he creates a world as evocative as anything out of the Pirates of the Caribean franchise. He directs as though he has never grown up, as though he is still making theatre out of his bedroom, with all the joy and invention that image conjures up. It can produce shaky results (his World Cup Final 1966 was a bit of a flop by all accounts) but when it works it really fires on all cylinders.

Arthur Ransome's novel has been adapted superbly by Helen Edmunson whose book is as light as a feather and as streamlined asan adventure story to rival the best and Neil Hannon's songs are the best original compositions of any Christmas show bar none. The audience participation in the final 20 minutes delightfully reinforces my belief that there is no better time for theatre then Christmas time when young and old come together to be enchanted by the magic and wonder of the stage.

Revival director Pieter Lawman gets fine performances out of his well drilled, actor/musicians ensemble. The two Peter O'Toole winners, in their first professional roles since graduating from the Bristol Old Vic theatre school, both show they have huge futures in this industry, Bethan Nash is motherly, bossy and vulnerable in equal measure as Susan Walker and Millie Corser is hilarious as the youngest of the two Amazon pirates who are rivals to the Swallows boat. There is also a show stealing performance from Tom Bennett as the youngest of the group, convincing even with beard and baritone voice. There is not a weak link in the group though, from Stuart McLoughlin's John to Evelyn Miller's older, tougher Amazon and the Captain Flint of Dominic Gerard.

Christmas is well served in Bristol with 101 Dalmations', the Hippodrome pantomime and others but I have a feeling that this returnee will be hard to best.

Swallows And Amazons plays at Bristol Old Vic until the 17th January.