22 years after Damian Cruden started his York Theatre Royal journey, his time theatre has come to an end with his final show, Swallows and Amazons, this year’s August run. Cruden finishes his glittering York career with the swashbuckling pirate adventure, a summer family show that marvels and entertains people of all ages. With children less and less exploring the great outdoors and being fixed to their big and small screens, bringing a summer show that glamorises just that is a stroke of genius and the show provides an escape from the world we live in, giving children and adults alike, 150 minutes of pure fantasy.
The story follows the four Walker children who set sail in their boat Swallow, setting sail to explore the lake near their home with the aim to get to the nearby island to spend the summer. It isn’t long before setting off though that their journey becomes a challenge, battling Cormorants on “Cormorant Island”, thunderstorms and their newfound rivals, the Amazons – whom naval warfare is declared against.
With music provided by Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, you’d have been forgiven going into the York Theatre expecting the songs to be the highlight. The soundtrack though, which is nothing short of wonderful, only complements the sheer talent and energy of the actor-musicians carrying out his, Cruden and co-director John R. Wilkinson’s vision for the show. The tracks are playful, fun and rather than detract from the show, really add value to the performance. A few recent York Theatre productions have felt musically forced, rather Swallows and Amazons thrives under it’s musical direction.
Throughout the entirety, all of the actors have standout moments, from the humour portrayed by Rachel Hammond (Peggy) and William Pennington (Roger), to the serious big sister performance by Laura Soper (Susan). The nine actor-musicians are flawless across a range of instruments and musical styles; Hanna Khogali’s (Titty) violin was memorable (especially when performing on her back) and Ed Thorpe’s guitar was the perfect rhythmic performance to enhance the more intricate sounds.
I loved this rendition of a classic tale; whilst the story and the script hasn’t been updated to reflect the modern day, it was actually rather nice to have that escape to the past and into a traditional theatre-scape for a couple of hours. The closeness and the intimate nature of the staging enforced this further and you really do feel a part of the children’s adventure throughout. Despite the length, some children weren’t as engaged by the end than at the start, I was enthralled in the story and the outstanding individual performances from William Pennington and Alex Wingfield ensured there was plenty of changes in direction.
To Damian Cruden, you’ll be sorely missed, but here’s to the next few years hoping the Theatre continues to thrive.