Pros: A superb ensemble who are riotously funny throughout.
Cons: If you are looking for a simplified version of this immense tale, this complex retelling isn’t for you.
A chandelier lies on the floor, there is rubble on the street and the windows are broken. This is the remnants of a war which has separated, categorised, victimised and murdered. Though the story is clearly referencing the persecution of the Poles and the Jews, it could quite easily be set in modern day Syria or Iraq.
The Tin Drum, originally written by Gunter Grass, tells the story of Oskar Matzerath, a strange young boy who is born beyond his years and not quite of this world. From the moment he is birthed, he is aware of the darkness that surrounds him and requests to return to his mother’s womb. After being promised the gift of a tin drum on his third birthday, he agrees to stay but when the day comes things don’t quite go to plan and Oskar swears to avoid the suffering in the world by never growing older. Despite his beliefs, Oskar’s age doesn’t stop him from witnessing terrible things. As the world around him slowly starts to deteriorate, his tin drum becomes his saving grace and the source of his heroism.
Penned almost sixty years ago the story remains incredibly current and although perhaps written for the more mature reader, it somehow manages to lure your inner-child. Rewritten by Carl Grose and directed by Mike Shepherd, Cornwall based theatre company Kneehigh have created something quite spectacular in his new psychedelic version of The Tin Drum and have certainly maintained the inner-child theme.
The story’s narrator and protagonist is a meter-high wooden puppet whose eyes are both innocent and sinister. Puppeteer Sarah Wright, alongside Dom Coyote and Bettrys Jones do a phenomenal job of controlling Oskar’s every word and move; it isn’t long before you are gazing deep into his eyes and fully under his story’s spell.
Much like the events in the story, it has an intensely alien feel to it and you are never quite sure what is going to happen next, adding to the epic excitement that is sustained throughout. Despite its hard-hitting plotline, Kneehigh have lived up to their playful nature by throwing lots of fun at this new adaptation and it certainly isn’t short of laughs. Performed mostly through song, the telling of how Oskar came into existence is raucously slapstick and somewhat pantomime-esque but hugely fun. Patrycja Kujawska is just wonderful in her multiple roles and highly memorable as Oskar’s grandfather Joe – the frisky arsonist wanted by the police. Beverly Rudd is hilarious in her many roles but shines as the voice of Satan, a cockney voiced wind up merchant who comes in the shape of a red dragon puppet.
The cast’s eclectic, and sometimes surprising vocals, only add to the fun of the show and aid the wonderfully weird songs that help to tell this story. The score is electrically rave-like and encompasses the alien spell that Oskar is able to put on us all.
It is a long show and perhaps if reformed in any way it wouldn’t hurt to be cut down slightly as some parts do feel somewhat prolonged; but with all the action on stage there really isn’t time to look at your watch. This truly is epic theatre at its best, combining every storytelling device possible. So whether you’re a Kneehigh newbie or die hard fan, The Tin Drum at the beautiful Shoreditch Townhall is definitely worth a watch. Even if you think you’re not into puppetry, try it anyway, you might just be swayed.
Author: Gunter Grass
Adapted by: Carl Grose
Directed by: Mike Shepherd
Composer and Music Director: Charles Hazlewood
Booking website: https://shoreditchtownhall.com/whats-on/the-tin-drum
Booking until: 23 December 2017