The youngsters in Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s story Swallows & Amazons enjoy summer holiday adventures on the water in the Lake District but how well do the cast of our stage adaptation get on with boats and water? And what was their most adventurous school holiday? They took time off from rehearsals to tell us.
Laura Soper (who plays Susan) says that very much like the Swallows she spent most of her school holidays having adventures in the Lake District, climbing fells like the Langdales and going over Pavey Ark.
“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,” she says.
“I learnt to row a boat in the Lake District and rowed right round two islands on Derwent water.”
William Pennington (Roger) says: “I belong on boats and on the water.” He’s a skilled surfer, windsurfer, sailor and waterski/wakeboard instructor who has grown up with boats since he was a tiny kid and feels most at home there. Just before starting rehearsals he completed building a 15ft Canadian canoe.
He learnt to waterski at the age of seven and has become highly skilled on the water. “You begin on two skis, then you learn to drop one ski, and then you start with just one (monoskiing) and this is where you can do the slalom courses. This is what I coach privately, and I absolutely adore it,” he explains.
“If I didn’t want to be an actor I would certainly be a waterski instructor in the Caribbean. I started wakeboarding a little later in life, but now also coach beginners and intermediates.”
His adventures don’t stop there. To prepare for playing Ben Gunn in a stage production of Treasure Island he wanted to understand the solitude the character went through marooned on an island for years. “So I took my small boat and rowed out to Peel Island – reckoned to be the model for Wildcat Island in Swallows & Amazons – and stranded myself there for four days and three nights, with no phone or any way of reaching the outside world. I fished, swam around the island and discovered all its hidden gems, so I know it very, very well.”
His most adventurous school holiday was on dry land in South America. As a 16-year-old he went to Peru on a school trip where the pupils not only did charity work but scaled a mountain to an altitude of 4,800 metres and trekked through the Amazon jungle.
Ellen Chivers (Mother) loves boats and the water. In 2015 she worked with Mikron Theatre, the company that tours on a 72ft narrow boat called Tyseley. The four actor-musicians lived on the boat for four months. “You have to learn to steer her, moor her, sleep on her and store all the set on her,” she says.
“It was a fantastic experience. I am a complete water-baby. It might be because I’m a Cancerian, but I am probably most happy when I’m in water.”
Some of her best memories of childhood involved going to Girl Guide camp every summer. “We camped in canvas patrol tents and cooked everything on an open fire every day,” she recalls. “The sound of wood pigeons in the mornings and the smell of wood smoke still makes me nostalgic for those days.”
As John, Alex Wingfield takes great pride in being captain of the Swallow and wants to make his father proud of his nautical abilities. The actor is less confident around boats. “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 the play I’ll be a passable ship’s captain in real life”.
His most adventurous holiday, a family walking trip in the Brecon Beacons, nearly ended badly. The plan was to 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, to say the very least,” says Alex.
“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.”
One school trip for Anne-Marie Piazza – who plays Amazon pirate Nancy – included abseiling, canoeing, rowing, sailing and water skiing (“which I was rubbish at”). She had a mishap 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,” she recalls.
The summer holidays found Anne-Marie visiting family in France, where her 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,” she says.
Boats have been part of the life of Kieran Buckeridge (Uncle Jim and Musical Director) from day one as he was born in Portsmouth, right on the South Coast and the Solent. He hasn’t, however, done much sailing of his own. “I think I prefer swimming in it than sailing on it,” he adds.
Swallows & Amazons is at York Theatre Royal from 26 July to 24 August.