YORK Theatre Royal associate artist John R Wilkinson will follow up co-directing this summer’s Swallows And Amazons production by directing Hello And Goodbye in the autumn.

Set In Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in the late 1960s, Athol Fugard’s tense meditation on family, selfishness and redemption will run in the Studio from November 14 to 30.

Swallows And Amazons, the Theatre Royal’s family adventure show for the summer holidays, is well into its run, directed by Wilkinson and Damian Cruden, in his final show after 22 years as artistic director.

Wilkinson had worked previously as assistant director to Cruden on such ensemble-season productions as My Family And Other Animals and Laurel And Hardy and as dramaturg on To Kill A Mockingbird.

“We tag-teamed it nicely in rehearsals for Swallows And Amazons, with musical director Kieran Buckeridge too, but it felt bittersweet as I consider Damian to be a bit of a theatre dad to me, so doing his last production here has been ‘quite emotional’, as the kids would say.”

Cruden, who left the Theatre Royal on July 26, had spent the earlier weeks of the summer overseeing the eight productions rehearsed by Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre for York and Blenheim Palace at the York Designer Outlet in his capacity as Lunchbox Theatrical Productions’ artistic director for the plays.

Then the focus switched to Helen Edmundson’s stage adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s story for children, with music by The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon.

“In terms of how we worked together, I did more of the text-based detailed directing and Damian did more of the general shaping of the piece,” says John.

“It’s a really democratic way of working, and it’s more about the actors, creating their roles, as they’re all adults playing the children, and the principal idea from the outset was to build it around the music, and that meant us not doing anything that could hamper doing that to the best of their ability. Initially you imagine it to be a play with songs but actually it’s more like gig theatre in the way we present it .”

Swallows And Amazons is targeted at family audiences. “A useful way of putting it is that children are uppermost in our thoughts, but one thing we have been adamant about is not playing down to children in the audience.

“We encouraged the actors to treat the children as they would treat adult roles and find the truth in that because children never see themselves that way. I always think those impressions are false memories.”

Commenting on Edmundson’s adaptation, John says: “I think it’s really loyal to the book, and in fact we’ve encouraged all the company to read Ransome’s novel. The only thing that’s slightly different is the order of some of the plotting.”

The setting is the Lake District, but don’t expect to see water, water everywhere. “We initially wanted to flood the stage, but it was a ‘No’ to that,” says John. “It’s now very much more abstract than that, with only a slither of water, but the movement director has done some lovely work to convey the motion of the boats.

“The movement work was also about concentrating on energy and flow, as we really wanted to get away from over-egging the fact they’re adults playing children because the power of the imagination is enough to bring you into their world.”

Wilkinson started working at the Theatre Royal in the box office in 2008, since when he has directed Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down in 2013, as well as working with Damian and more besides. “Damian has a tremendous track record for nurturing talent in a very unassuming way and in a way that talent wants to be nurtured,” says John.

“Charlotte Bennett, the first artistic director of the Theatre Royal’s Takeover festival is now co-artistic director of Paines Plough; Sarah Brigham is now at the Derby Playhouse; Richard Twining at English Touring Theatre. You only realise the number of people he has brought through in hindsight.”

Wilkinson’s own talents led him away from York Theatre Royal when he won the Genesis Award from The Young Vic, where he presented Norwegian poet and playwright Jon Fosse’s play Winter. “Imagine if Samuel Beckett had written Pretty Woman!” says John, who went on to work at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds for 18 months.

“But my intention was always to come back here,” he says. Next up will be the aforementioned Hello And Goodbye this autumn. “Tom and Juliet [executive director Tom Bird and associate director Juliet Forster] and I were very keen to bring back that really exciting Studio slot that we did in the late 2000s; plays like Blackbird, White Crow and Can’t Stand up For Falling Down, because for a while that space was the place to be," continues John.

“We wanted to bring back gritty, intense dramas, and Juliet and I have always talked about doing this play: a kind of modern classic, if you like. Athol Fugard is an exquisite writer in terms of putting two people together in a room and letting them go at it for an hour.”

Swallows And Amazons runs at York Theatre Royal until August 24; Hello And Goodbye in The Studio, York Theatre Royal. November 14 to 30. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.