Oh, for a time when the worst accusation that could be made of a boy was being a liar and a knife was considered a responsible reward for an exuberant seven-year-old.
This time and place – when a 12-year-old was thought able enough to take a group of kids camping on a secluded island in the Lake District – is the setting for Arthur Ransome’s adventure-packed children’s romp Swallows And Amazons.
If you think conjuring such an idyllic, innocent setting might test your imagination, you’re in for a shock, as Tom Morris’s production challenges the audience’s creativity at every turn.
A feather duster and secateurs become a parrot, boats are conjured from a mere framework, clapping evokes a crackling fire and views through a telescope are brilliantly conceived.
It is as if Morris still has a hotline to the mind of a child and has stumbled across the oft-forgotten truth that it is more fun to use your imagination than to have the literal delivered to you on the dullest of plates. There’s so much more enjoyment to be had from this playful engagement with a production than from just sitting back and passively watching.
The audience aren’t the only ones having a whale of a time; the cast couldn’t have more fun if they really were camping on a desert island.
Stewart Wright – playing the biggest seven-year-old you will ever see – gets all the best lines as the naïve youngest child, though the whole family – Akiya Henry, Katie Moore and Richard Walker – are immensely likeable. Celia Adams and Sophie Walker as the bickering Amazons bring a smile to the face every time they appear.
To be fair, there is little in the production that does not have that effect. Neil Hannon’s music adds to the atmosphere, whether it be the rousing anthem to the Swallows, the more robust Amazons’ theme or the positively piratical Black Spot.
On a cold winter’s night there is a lot to be said for a show packed full of warmth and innocence, childish glee and imagination, that will make you, your child and their grandmother smile at exactly the same thing. Merry Christmas indeed.