LAURA Soper returns to her home-city theatre for the first time in her professional career to enjoy a summer adventure in Arthur Ransome's Swallows And Amazons at York Theatre Royal.

This former member of the Theatre Royal Youth Theatre appeared in main-house summertime productions The Legend Of King Arthur and Peter Pan, both directed by Damian Cruden, whose co-production of Swallows And Amazons is his last as artistic director after 22 years.

Laura also appeared as Eve in Cruden's co-production of the 2012 York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens and as Viola in Twelfth Night for York Shakespeare Project in 2014.

"Being in Swallows And Amazons feels really special: it’s my first professional role at the Theatre Royal," says Laura, who gained a degree in drama at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 2017.

"The book is one of my absolute favourites, which is one reason I'm so excited to being doing it. I just love everything about it. We go to the Lake District every year on holiday with my family, so I just feel so connected to the story."

Adapted for the stage by Helen Edmundson with music by The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon, the story tells of the Walker and Blackett children’s school holiday in the Lakes as they take to the water for adventures. When the Swallows – John, Susan, Titty and Roger – set sail to Wildcat Island, they meet Nancy and Peggy, the self-proclaimed Amazon Pirates, and the dastardly Captain Flint.

Laura notes how Swallows And Amazons never patronises children. "It gives them the time and space to tell their story and I love how Arthur Ransome takes it so seriously," she says. "For them it’s a big deal, a proper adventure, however childish and silly it may seem from an adult point of view. I like how the adults take the children seriously, just as the writer does.

"I'm playing Susan, the second eldest of the four Swallows, who shoulders a lot of the responsibility as the first mate, who's there to make sure they don't drown or get cold or starve. She does the cooking and has to make sure they go to bed...but adventures keep getting in the way!"

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MULTI-INSTRUMENTALIST, MULTIPLE ROLES: Ed Thorpe in rehearsal for Swallows And Amazons

Among those joining Laura in the company will be Ed Thorpe, returning to the Theatre Royal summer family show after appearing in Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny in 2017 and settling in Acomb that year.

As with that show, Swallows And Amazons is a play with music, rather than a musical. "I'll be playing guitar, trumpet, euphonium, cornet, glockenspiel and other hittable objects," says Ed, who will be performing myriad roles aged 30 to 70, from a tight-lipped farmer to a pirate; Old Charcoal Burner to a disgruntled policemen sent to track down the mischievous children.

"I'm playing descant recorder, glockenspiel and Cabassa shaker," says Laura. "I didn't know of Neil Hannon's music at all before this show, but it's so rich and yummy!"

"I was aware of The Divine Comedy by reputation, and this score is amazing," says Ed. "The atmosphere is really strong in the songs."

"It's storytelling songwriting," says Laura. "It feels like a play first," rejoins Ed. "It's a story told through multiple media, and it never feels like we're stopping to do a song. There are always important plot points within them."

Ed reveals he did not read Headingley writer Ransome's stories as a child. "The first time I knew of them was when this production came about, but now I appreciate this is such a wonderful story full of imagination and play and that crossover from childhood to adulthood,"he says.

By comparison, "I've been going to the Lake District forever, since celebrating my second birthday there. So I knew the stories," says Laura. "I'm an only child, so I had to have a world of imagination, and that's why the Lake District was really important to me, going off on adventures and learning to row there."

Laura, by the way, will be coming full circle at the Theatre Royal this summer by also appearing in the YTR Youth Theatre production of Jacqueline Wilson’s circus-themed Hetty Feather from August 30 to September 1 in the main house.

"I'm learning aerial hoop skills at the moment for the show," says Laura, who will play Madame Adeline. "It's really nice to be back with the youth theatre, as when I was a member I used to really look up to the professionals, especially when I did the Theatre Royal summer shows, which gave me a real insight into theatre."

York Theatre Royal presents Swallows And Amazons until August 24. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

Charles Hutchinson