Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Stage2 held to Ransome

Swallows and Amazons


The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham


ARTHUR Ransome’s series of books about the adventures of children during idyllic summer holidays in the Lake District have struck a chord since the first, Swallows and Amazons, was published in 1930.

Their tale of childhood innocence is not the easiest to stage, for a start lakes tend to be big, and somewhat wet, and this version is based on Helen Edmundson’s National Theatre musical adaptation which, incidentally, normally calls for a cast of eleven with some doubling of minor roles – or in the case of Stage2, a cast of 36.

It is always intriguing to see how this excellent youth theatre will rise to the challenge of expanding the cast numbers of any play

Director Lucy Bailey-Wright has used a chorus of 16 and 11 minor roles such as cormorants and ducks, a policeman and charcoal burners, as everything from waves and winds to a bloodthirsty crew of pirates in a dream, but although the policy of giving a part to as many people as possible is commendable, it does have its drawbacks.

In the National Production, the waves around the two skeletal of sailing boats, Swallow and Amazon, were represented by two blue ribbons – off and on stage in a splash.

Here a veritable ocean of people had to wash onstage to surround the cleverly made boats with the crew becoming lost in the crowd – which is no criticism of the briny extras, who did a splendid job, rising and falling in unison to give an impression of the lake surface.


But they did tend to confuse and detract from the main characters in boat scenes while the tacking of Swallow was inevitably a bit clumsy with so many people to move; the biggest drawback though, was that the numbers deadened the pace, with boats sailing on or off stage into the wings probably only taking seconds but seeming an age, putting a damper on any rhythm that had been built.

Charlie Stewart gave us a rather bossy John, as 12-year-old leader of the Walker children on their great adventure, and handled the rather archaic language of the 1920s well, as did all the children.

Mag Luesley was a prim and proper Susan, the mate, who was rather serious and extremely matronly for an 11-year-old while sister, able seaman Titty, aged 9, full of imagination and longing for adventure, was played by Emily Cremins and seven-year-old, almost eight, Roger, the ship’s boy, was played noisily and excitedly, as befitting a boy of his tender years, by Toma Hoffman.

On the other side we had the Amazons, Nancy, the captain, played in no nonsense manner by Hanifa Ali and her younger sister Peggy, played by Hana Ali.

These are the main characters and have the difficult job of children playing the roles of . . . children. It sounds easy, but isn’t. They are not just playing the middle class children of 1929, but also how a 21st century audience perceive middle class children of 1929 as well as having the usual acting duties of accentuating and amplifying characters so they can carry beyond the footlights.


They managed it with performances full of enthusiasm and giving the characters identity, from the permanently bickering Amazons, who delight in insulting each other, to the more organised Swallows with their sibling chain of command, tempered by their permanent note of caution from Susan.

In support roles we have Georgia Homer as Mrs Walker, the Swallows’ mother and what we all think of 1920’s mothers should be, then there is Gabriel Hudson as the less than talkative Mr Jackson, owner of the farm where the Walkers were staying, and Matt Childs gave us a rumbustious James Turner, designated as Captain Flint, who first accuses and then befriends the Swallows.

Meanwhile George Bandy gives us a remarkably gruff and unfriendly policeman as the Walker children’s adventures seem to have been ended by unfounded accusations but we all know everything will turn out all right in the end, after all this is a children’s adventure.

Bandy, Meg Leusley, Emily Cremins and Stewart along with Violey Sprigg, who played a duck and an owl, and Maya Bennett, one of the charcoal burners, are also the musicians for the offstage music. The music itself is less than memorable, which is not the fault of the musicians, and at times instead of dialogue we have almost operatic recitative which, like the singing, much of it a capella,  can be a bit hit and miss.

A capella is not the easiest for young voices and perhaps a bit more experience is needed although it is worth remembering that this was a show featuring many younger members of the company and many of the cast were performing for the first time with director Lucy Bailey-Wright noting in the programme: “it is great to have a new generation of kids coming through.”

Like all good children’s yarns it requires a lot of imagination from the reader as a book and even more to stage and the company, along with Alan Bailey, have created a clever set with six fencing panels, four hinged in the wings as doors, harbours, boat sheds and all manner of locations on Wildcat Island and two simple boats to wheel around the stage.

The use of a large video screen which dropped down with maps, or the farmhouse, with spots picking out bedrooms or camps at night was also clever while the paper boats dangling of strings festooned from both balconies was a nice touch.

It is not an easy story to bring to the stage and, as we would expect from Stage2, this was a commendable effort. To 19-07-14

Roger Clarke


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