Writers: Michael Morpugo and Emma Rice for Kneehigh Theatre Company
Director: Emma Rice
Venue: Theatre Tent
Reviewer: Kris Hallett
The hung over Sunday crowds at Latitude were still out in force first thing in the theatre tent to witness the first public performance of 946, Kneehigh’s customary inventive new production from Michael Morpugo’s book The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips. Opening at their home in Cornwall, The Asylum, next weekend, the piece had an understandable rough energy at times but if early indicators are any sign, Kneehigh have found their groove again, following their superlative Dead Dog In A Suitcase, afavourite show from last year.
Stapleton Sands, 1944, and this sleepy Devonshire village is thrown into uproar, asked to leave their homes to allow American GIs chance to practice their military manoeuvres, which will lead to tragic consequences even before they reach the beaches of Normandy. A family show that sheds fresh light on D-Day it has the usual inventive energy, sense of play and splashes of theatrical gold that Emma Rice sprinkles on all her work (she will be much missed when she takes over the reigns of the Globe next year).
The cast, dressed identically in boiler suits and comprising familiar Kneehigh ensemble members Mike Shephard, Craig Johnson, Giles King, Patrycja Kujawska and Katy Owens all have that sense of confidence in their material and each other that comes from working together(and in this case living together) over a number of projects. Denied the ending as the company had to stop mid-flow to ensure the theatre tent didn’t overrun, it’s hard to judge how high on the pantheon this show is on their admittedly high bar. I have a feeling it doesn’t quite get a place on the podium; one too many longeurs, no dazzling coup de theatre that will last in the memory.
However, there is still enough of the usual Kneehigh tropes: lovely detailed and inventive puppetry, a score from Stu Barker that mixes familiar playground songs of the era alongside brand new compositions and the British tradition of men in drag: that shows the company, often imitated, are still the standard bearers for British Theatre Companies.