Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Swallows and Amazons at the Bristol Old Vic

A view of the stage from above"Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers - won't drown!" 

And so began a most original and enchanting rendition of this classic tale. Roughly translated, the telegram informs the young siblings that Father believes they would be better off drowned if they are fools and if they are not fools they won't drown! A rather sinister way of letting them know they can go on their longed-for camping trip across the lake! From the very start, it was hard not to be swept along in the excitement and enthusiasm of the adventure.

The acting was superb, from the enchanting smile of Susan, who played the part of Big Sister with wonderful grace and charm, to the bumbling, slightly shaky, authority of John, the eldest brother and leader of the Swallows. By far the most amazing feat of acting has to be little Roger, though, played by Tom Bennett. A bearded man of at least 5' 8", who had us all convinced he was the most adorable little boy of seven (and a bit!). He was just... so... cute!!

We had all been very much looking forward to this show. My son had never been to a theatre performance like this and it is such a lovely place to go. A beautiful building, in a lovely part of Bristol, next to the Waterfront. I was intrigued, however, as to how they would make this classic tale, first published in the 1930s, with all the flowery, antiquated language appropriate to the time, appeal to today's media-savvy, gadget loving, modern youth. I needn't have worried, this lot knew exactly what they were doing. The performance was peppered throughout with some seriously funny comedy from the long-suffering stage crew, appropriately dressed in dungarees and caps. Throwing themselves into their work, they were run ragged simulating waves, wind, and all manner of other crazy props, with almost acrobatic finesse. I have never seen a play that discreetly writes in the antics of the stage crew to provide an added dimension to the central plot. It turned out to be an inspired idea. I have never seen my son so captivated, and what a wonderful way to introduce youngsters to the theatre, and to classic literature.

Sitting in the Box at the Bristol Old Vic

"Raised by our Mamma on the banks of the Amazon Delta, with just the clouds and a four bedroomed house for shelter!"

 The script, although true to the time, had just the right mix of modernism and comedy to keep us all entertained throughout. The childish language was perfectly executed by the cast and you couldn't help but be drawn into their little world of make-believe. The pace was fast enough to engage even a hyperactive eight year old, and yet lost none of the charm you would expect from this enchanting tale. I really think the cast, stage hands, crew and everyone else involved did an amazing job bringing the story to life with so much imagination and enthusiasm.

 The play itself was wonderful, and we enjoyed it very much. It was lovely to see L so enthralled and involved in the storyline. The only issue we had was with the seating. We were lucky enough to win a private box for the occasion and were very excited at the prospect of such a luxurious treat. I have to say though, it really wasn't that great. I don't like to put a negative spin on my reviews and I think it's important to remember that the show itself was great. However, I did think it was fair to report on this aspect, as it is not something that often comes up in reviews and it might be useful for anyone considering a private box for any theatre performance in the future. Firstly, the view is, obviously, I suppose, sideways-on. This means you see everything at the wrong angle and, although the cast are clearly well rehearsed in incorporating all angles of the audience in the performance, it did make it harder to follow the plot. The Bristol Old Vic has an intimate little stage, which is lovely, but did mean some of the action took place directly beneath the box, so we didn't have a chance of following that bit! I would have loved to have gone back and watched it again, from the front, as it should be viewed, but unfortunately, we caught the very last day of the performance. There was some lovely audience interaction which involved hurling missiles at the stage and I think L was especially disappointed that we were left out of that bit, as that would have put Theatre right up there with Minecraft and Lego!

The Bristol Old Vic

The biggest issue though, was with the height. This was partly my fault, as I didn't envisage quite how high up it was. My daughter, like a lot of people, has a problem with heights, which she generally manages very well. However, due to the height and slightly rickety feel of the box, she had a fairly substantial panic attack before the performance had even started. I managed to calm her down, but realised this wasn't the best start and had the potential to ruin what was meant to be a joyful experience. So, during the interval, I went off to the box office to see if they could help. They were very helpful and friendly, but, sadly, the individual they put me in touch with (presumably the manager) assured me there was absolutely nothing he could do and there was no way he could offer us another seat, in case there were latecomers who arrived during the second half. So that was a shame and did ruin it for me a little bit. Incidentally, I counted more than twenty empty seats when the second half began. Anyway...

Over all we had a great time and even getting soaked on our way to the bus stop couldn't dampen our spirits! I don't think our box experience will put us off visiting the theatre again, but I wouldn't recommend the extra pennies it costs, unless you have a periscope and a fantastic head for heights!

Have a look at our other Bristol attractions for children!



  1. I've been to this theatre before, it's a lovely theatre, quite small but perfectly formed. I'm glad you enjoyed the show, what a treat:)

    1. Thank you, it was good. I don't go to the theatre enough!

  2. I always wondered why people would choose boxes, so interesting to hear a view of someone using one. Reinforces my view that you should always choose (if given the choice) circle or stalls (in that order)

    1. Yes, I've learned that too. I have no idea why people pay so much for them!


© The Parent Game. All rights reserved.