Review: Creation Theatre’s Swallows and Amazons in Oxford University Parks – ”Sweet, charming and rollicking good fun’

Theatre-lovers in Oxford are blessed with a wealth of outdoor shows at this time of year. None, however, will be as sweet, charming and such rollicking good fun as Creation Theatre’s al fresco production of “Swallows and Amazons” – which is making a splash in the University Parks, writes Tim Hughes.

Arthur Ransome’s engaging story of jolly japes in the Lake District is incredibly dated – and all the more wonderful for that.

Creation Theatre’s “Swallows and Amazons” – standing left to right, Matthew Wellman, Andy Owens, Charlotte Worthing, Venice Van Sameren, Annabelle Terry, sitting, Olivia Beardsley and Ewan Goddard. Photo: Richard Cave/Oxford Mail.

It tells the story of a group of hyper-imaginative children on their school holidays, who set off on a boat trip across the lake and come into conflict with a rival group of sisters. War is declared, and much swashbuckling adventure ensues.

When it was written between the wars, young kids commonly did such things – if not boating then walking or cycling away from home alone. Now, with our children glued to phones and video games, it seems unimaginable. And therein lies the appeal – and the need to drag your own offspring along.

In this perfect summer production, Creation summon up a halcyon age of childhood innocence laced with peril, and who among us wouldn’t long to be there?

The play is set perfectly beside a large pond, which adds to the watery ambience – even though the boats themselves are delightfully improvised and very much on land. At one point real geese on the pond joined in with the recorded birdsong. A lovely moment.

Aimed solidly at families (unlike Creation’s edgier Brave New World currently running at the Westgate), director Charlotte Conquest’s dreamy production drips nostalgia. And, on my visit, the children loved it as much as the adults – who clearly adored it.

In less accomplished hands, it could be insipid or schmaltzy but, like those 1930s children, Creation are made of firmer stuff. Armed with Helen Edmondson’s script, the cast deftly portray the mannerisms and speech of young children and we happily suspend reality with them. Particularly brilliant are the boisterous and plucky Amazon Pirate sisters with their witty wordplay.

There is fabulous music all the way through, alternately sweet and lilting or cheekily amusing. The songs are written by none other than Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon (of “Something for the Weekend” and “National Express fame”) – which explains the sparkle of brilliance. The tunes alone are worth the modest ticket price.

With fine weather, a divine location and talented cast, this is an essential summer show. Don’t miss out.

As the young sailors themselves would say: “Swallows and Amazons forever!”

Originally published by the Oxford Mail and reproduced with permission.