Take the master storytelling of Michael Morpurgo and blend with the remarkable vision of Kneehigh Theatre Company and the result is an absorbing, beautifully crafted piece of theatre that will stay with you long after you leave.
The story has all the hallmarks you would expect from a Michael Morpurgo text - humour, wonderful descriptions, identifiable characters and a story that tugs at every emotional cord you can imagine. As with so many of his works, this is not just a children’s story and Kneehigh’s production is far from being ‘just’ a children’s show.
946: The Story of Adolphus Tips is adapted from Morpurgo’s 2006 children’s novel of the same name. Set in a sleepy seaside village in 1943, it tells the story of World War 2 through the eyes of 12 year old Lily Tregenza as she encounters stories from the Front, the arrival of evacuees and the posting of American GIs to the area. When her beloved cat Tips goes missing, she must rely on her new found friends to help find her; paving the way for a remarkable journey of friendship that is to remain for the rest of their lives. It is a story of war, loss, displacement and hospitality in times of need, and one which has particular resonance against the tales of war and refugee aid today.
From such a description you would be forgiven for imagining a rather sombre production. Far from it! The audience are swept along by an almost party-like atmosphere from the moment they step into the auditorium as a group of cleaners engage them in conversation as they sweep around the rows of seats, accompanied by music from a stunning blues band who are to provide the live soundtrack for the show.
The production goes on to mix music, dance, physical theatre, puppetry and more in a seamless way that sweeps the audience along from start to finish. The small ensemble cast play many roles between them with clever use of costuming allowing for a change in role from adult to child and back again so slick, that it makes you wonder that there are not more cast members hiding in the wings. The entire cast is to be commended for their tour de force performances, which are more “multi-threat” than “triple-threat”; combining acting, singing and dance with highly skilled puppetry and musicianship.
To highlight any particular individual would be a disservice to the rest. This production has achieved that rare thing when every single element from performance to design and direction works to perfection. Everything completely in harmony, places this among the best of the Kneehigh shows I have ever seen and more to the point ranks it among the best I have ever seen.
If I could be at The REP to watch it again this week I would be. Just go! You will not be disappointed.
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