REVIEW – Swanhunter (The Lowry)

Adrian Dwyer as Lemminkäinen with ‘The Devil’s Horse’ © Richard Davenport
Adrian Dwyer as Lemminkäinen with ‘The Devil’s Horse’
© Richard Davenport

Date: 25 APRIL 2015
Upstaged Rating: 


Opera North are passionate about making opera that appeals to the whole family, for children to understand and enjoy just as much as the adults. In this production, Opera North have collaborated with The Wrong Crowd Theatre Company to bring the story of Swanhunter to life. Under the direction of Hannah Mulder, the story is masterfully told by the cast of six, in a simple but highly effective way. The tale is full to the brim with mystical beasts, spooky landscapes and other-worldly characters which heightens its appeal to older children, over the age of 7.

Four backpackers sit around a warm fire as they begin tell the story of the Swanhunter, this campfire tale eagerly becomes a re-enactment of the story of Lemminkainen’s quest to the North to find a wife. This frame story can’t claim to be the most original or inventive but, it is charming and a familiar setting for most of the audience.

During Lemminkainen’s (Adrian Dwyer) quest to find a wife he uses his voice to sing his way out of any trouble – overcoming growling dogs, the Devil’s Elk and the Devil’s Horse – however, will the final task of shooting the Swan (Suzanne Shakespear) that lives on Death’s river prove too much for him?

Ann Taylor as Mother ©Richard Davenport
Ann Taylor as Mother
©Richard Davenport

Luckily, he has cast a spell on a knife and stabbed it into his mother’s door – this knife will let his mother know if he gets into trouble. As with all children’s opera, we need a happy ending and so it is Lemminkainen’s mother, sung emotively by Ann Taylor, who comes to his rescue. Adrian Dwyer is strong and animated in the role of Lemminkainen, although maybe a little too mature for the role of the young man in search of a bride.

Rachael Canning’s clever puppetry and design uses the camper’s circle of tents to bring the narrative into full realisation. All framed by a simple backdrop of mountains, a tent becomes a body for the Devil’s Elk and two rucksacks become the bodies of two fraught snarling dogs.

Jonathan Dove’s music is beautiful, conducted by Justin Doyle, it moves through from the frightening low tones of death to the high piercing notes of the swan’s aria sung beautifully by Suzanne Shakespeare.

Running at around 70 minutes, Swanhunter is a fantastic opportunity for the whole family to experience opera together.


“ I liked all of the puppets, especially the scary ones and the music was really creepy at the start which made me feel excited. I couldn’t believe how high the lady sang as she moved the swan around beautifully on the stage. I found the story really easy to follow because the cast always sang what was happening a few times so that I could understand.”

Thing 1 (age 9)

-Kristy Stott

Swanhunter continues its run at The Alnwick Playhouse on the 26th and 27th April before calling in at The Queen’s Hall, Hexham on the 29th and 30th April 2015. For more details on the tour please click here.