Consistently Infrequent

January 13, 2012

Swallows and Amazons (Vaudeville Theatre, London, January 2012)

Filed under: Theatre — Tony Breyal @ 12:34 pm

Premise

A musical, based on the book of the same name, set in the early 1900’s about a group of children who decide to play make-believe about pirates, amazons and treasure over the period of several summer days and evenings.

Theatre

The Vaudeville is a nice cosy theatre with three levels. The staff are pleasant and it’s located very close to Covent Garden, Embankment and Charring Cross stations. We were sat in the Dress Circle (second level) in seats D16  and D15 (which have good enough leg room for someone about 6 foot tall). Very luckily we had short children sat in front of us which gave us a full view of the stage. During this production the cast members sometimes left the stage and went among the audience and part of that was missed from these seats. If I were to go again I’d want to be sat in the stalls (where I have sat in the past for this theatre and must say give an excellent view). As always, check out the fantastic Theatremonkey website for a wider variety London theatre seating opinions.

Audience

Being a show aimed at children there were lots of families in attendance but also a good deal of adults without children. Based on the audience reactions and a quick look on twitter it would seem everyone was having a very good time. Whilst people often whisper to each other during a show (which is considered very rude by most decent theatre-goers), one thing that short children will do is actually stand up for a short burst if there is something they can’t see very well during an entertaining part of the show. Rather more annoyingly however is when their parents don’t immediately correct this behaviour as it spoils the view for everyone immediately behind them, all the way to the back of the auditorium.

Plot

Four young siblings set sail for an island in the hope of finding adventure. They call themselves the Swallows and consist of “captain” John who is the eldest brother and the one in charge, “first mate” Susan who tries to make sure everyone is OK, “able seaman” Titty who thirsts for adventure and  youngest brother Roger who is the “ship’s boy” and almost eight years old. As they land on the island they meet a couple of “Amazons” who are slightly older and consist of “captain” Nancy and her sister Peggy.

Both the Swallows and Amazons are initially at odds with one another until they realise they have a common enemy in that of Captain Flint (the uncle of the Amazon’s who has been neglecting his niece’s in order to finish a book he has been writing, and who blames the Swallows for a firework going off on his houseboat, though that was actually the Amazons). In order to decide who will lead the the attack on Captain Flint they decide to have a competition that whoever can capture the other’s boat first will have the honour of being the flagship.

Whilst the Swallow’s make preparations they are asked to make Captain Flint aware that someone may try to burgle his houseboat. Captain Jonn sets sail alone to inform Captain Flint of this information but is unable to do so because Captain Flint won’t hear him out (still believing The Swallows are responsible for the Firework going off on his houseboat) and calls John a liar (which John is visibly upset about).

The rest of the plot revolves around the Swallows capturing the Amazon’s boat, the Amazon’s graciously conceding defeat, the Swallows being wrongfully accused of breaking into Captain Flint’s houseboat, Captain Flint apologising to John for calling him a liar and Titty being a hero to help locate the stolen property. Finally Captain Flint makes proper amends by agreeing to play with both the Swallow’s and the Amazons.

Here’s a trailer (which does not do the show justice at all but it’s the best I could find!)

Verdict

I went into this with very low expectations but these were vastly exceeded by the pure brilliance and fun factor of the musical. It started off a bit slow but soon kicked up a gear when the Swallow’s left home for their camping adventure. From this point on it was fantastic.

The music is catchy with my favourite being when the theme songs of both the Swallows and the Amazons are song over one another (I wish I knew where to find it). I love it when there are musician’s on stage who blend into the background and that occurs here. There is very clever uses and realisations of the simple props to hand, such as when a telescope is used one of the stage hands produces a large hollow circle (with simultaneous motion to that of the telescope holder) to show what is being magnified, and the parrot whose eyes and beak are made up of pliers. To simulate the sound of fire on stage, several stage click their fingers in an arrhythmic pattern and is actually very convincing. The actor’s do a decent job with the woman playing the role of Susan deserving special praise not only for her singing but also for giving the most convincing performance of the character she was portraying.

Overall a most excellent production and one I would love to see again (if it weren’t closing this week!).

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