An Interview with the Cast of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, York Theatre Royal, 2019
Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s novel Swallows & Amazons comes to the stage of York Theatre Royal this summer. Six of the cast, Anne-Marie Piazza, William Pennington (above, 2nd left), Alex Winfield (above, 2nd right), Ellen Chivers, Kieran Buckeridge and Laura Soper (above, right) – answer questions about sailing, adventurous holidays and what their character is really like…
Are you a Swallow or an Amazon?
Anne-Marie: Amazon. To be honest, I walk through life as if I’m a 6ft Amazonian warrior so it’s nice to have it officially recognised
Alex: Swallow forever… and death to Captain Flint, while I’m at it.
Ellen: I feel more inclined towards being a Swallow. I love the idea of being able to fly! It also feels like you could go on an adventure but be back in time for tea.
Kieran: Hmm, I think I’m a Swallow at heart. I’d love to be more reckless but I’d probably be happier making a fire and toasting marshmallows.
William: I’m a Swallow.
Laura: Definitely a Swallow! I’m rubbish with conflict so I’m not sure Captain Nancy would have me in her crew. I’d be useless in a war.
What can you tell us about your character?
Anne-Marie: She is brilliant. She’s what I would have loved to have been, and may have been to some extent. I dragged my mate on many bike rides and adventures and got us into heaps of trouble. She was often the voice of reason telling me to go back which just spurred me on further. And Nancy is this and more, she is totally immersed in the imaginative world and a real pirate. Or at least that is what I will be.
Alex: John Walker is sensible, rational and has a good brain on him. He takes great pride in being Captain of the ship Swallow and wants to make his Father proud of his nautical abilities. As the eldest of the Walker children, he looks after his younger siblings and his heart is in the right place, despite his occasional pig-headedness.
Ellen: I am playing the Mother. She’s juggling her many children, including a baby and is catering to their different wants and needs before they go off on this big adventure. She also totally believes in the realities the children have created and gives them space to indulge their imaginations. Like all mothers, she’s a superwoman.
Kieran: I play Uncle Jim, uncle to the Blackett sisters Peggy and Nancy. I’m an author who’s neglected the imaginative games of my nieces as I’ve been tapping away on a typewriter all summer. Uncle Jim is a nice guy really and eventually gets on board with all the games but not before the children rename him Captain Flint and force him to walk the plank.
William: Roger Walker – so happy he’s not the youngest any more and is simply excited to be a part of it. Incredibly observant, and always excited for adventure. He does first and thinks later – as any young fearless children do.
Laura: She the second oldest at 11 so she feels she has a responsibility to look after everyone and is subsequently the mother figure of the group. I feel, however, that I have a duty to stand up for Susan and make sure she doesn’t get branded as the boring one. She’s the ship’s mate so regardless of how sensible or motherly she is, it’s the mate’s job to be in charge of all the supplies and make sure everyone gets fed. She is an accomplished sailor in her own right and probably has more common sense than I do.
What was your most adventurous school holiday?
Anne-Marie: Going on a PGL trip with school which included abseiling, canoeing, rowing, sailing and water skiing (which I was rubbish at). When I went sailing the wind changed and I didn’t move quickly enough so the sail whacked me in the face and gave me a fat lip.
Alex: When I was John’s age, my family and I would go on walking holidays in the Brecon Beacons. One particularly adventurous holiday included a walk up a mountain on the eve of entering the new Millennium. Some terrible weather set in as we were getting to the top and we weren’t prepared for snow. Blue-lipped, we scaled down the mountain, with some of the kids (myself included) being carried down by our parents as it was so treacherous.
Ellen: I used to go on Girl Guide camp every summer and they’re some of the best memories of my childhood. We camped in canvas patrol tents and cooked everything on an open fire every day. The sound of wood pigeons in the mornings and the smell of wood smoke still makes me nostalgic for those days.
Kieran: I went to Italy with the school once. We walked up Mount Vesuvius and our guide threw an egg onto a stone and it friend on the spot.
William: I went to Peru with the school, and we did quite a lot of charity work while we were out there. We also scaled a mountain to an altitude of 4,800 metres and trekked through the Amazon jungle. All when I was 16 – this began my love of travel.
Laura: Very much like the Swallows, I spent most of my school holidays having adventures in the Lake District, climbing fells like the Langdales, going over Pavey Ark. I learnt to row a boat in the Lake District and rowed round two islands on Derwent water. I got my very own foot spa when paddling in the lake at Coniston when lots of little fish started nibbling at my toes.
How are you on boats and the water?
Anne-Marie: Every summer I’d visit family in France and my aunt lived on the edge of the Lot river. She had a canoe and I’d take it out. Dad even taught me to sail a bit.
Alex: I like being on a boat and on the water, though admittedly, my knowledge of sailing technique is nothing short of pathetic. I’m hoping that by the end of the run of this play I’ll be a passable Ship’s Captain in real life.
Ellen: I love them! I worked with Mikron Theatre in 2015. They are particularly unique in that they tour on a 72ft narrow boat called Tyseley, which you live on with three other actor-musicians for four months. You have to learn how to steer her, moor her, sleep on her and store all the set on her. It was a fantastic experience. I am also a complete water-baby. It might be because I’m a Cancerian, but I am probably most happy when I’m in water.
Kieran: I was born in Portsmouth right on the South Coast and the Solent so boats have been in my life from day one. However, I haven’t done much sailing of my own. I think I prefer swimming in it than sailing on it.
William: I belong on boats and on the water. I’m a skilled surfer, windsurfer, sailor and waterski/wakeboard instructor and always wish to be either on or near the water. I’ve grown up with boats since I was a tiny kid and feel most at home there. I’ve just built a 15ft Canadian canoe.
Laura: I’ve never been sailing but I love water. That’s one reason why I like the Lake District so much. I take every opportunity to go paddling, swimming or rowing – you get such an amazing view of the world from the water.
‘Swallows & Amazons’ is at York Theatre Royal from 26 July to 24 August.
Box office 01904 623568. Online yorktheatereroyal.co.uk