The Tin Drum
Adapted by Carl Grose, from the novel by Günter Grass Director: Mike Shepherd Music: Charles Hazlewood
You have to admire the sheer nerveless ambition of Kneehigh’s latest production, said Robin Brown on What’s On Stage. It’s a touring musical version of Günter Grass’s novel The Tin Drum, a dense Homeric epic about “an ageless child fighting Nazis with percussion”. And if that summary sounds “glib”, then it is not totally out of keeping with the spirit of this “irreverent” show, in which a “giddily alchemical” clash of musical styles, puppetry, props and “sheer knockabout physicality” makes for a heady – if sometimes dissonant – mix. In lesser hands, the results of such abandon might have been “grisly”. With Kneehigh, the performances and production are confident and “watertight”; you can sit back and enjoy the “riotous, colourful and immensely fun” ride. Is this a rock’n’roll opera, a comedy or tragedy? A musical, folklore or simply a warning from the past? “All of those things, one suspects. But above all it’s magical.”
In this “surreal and gleefully inventive” adaptation – written by Carl Grose with a “chaotic, genre-mashing” score by Charles Hazlewood – Kneehigh has homed in on the novel’s folk tale qualities, said Catherine Love in The Guardian. Grass’s story of life in Danzig (now Gdansk) before, during and after the Second World War becomes an allegory for all conflict. The Nazi Party has become the non-specific “Order”, led by an alluring rock star figure. “The prescient suggestion is that anyone, at any time, can fall under the spell of fascism.” What’s lacking here, though, is clarity: amid the mess of war and “narrative tangle” it is all too easy to get lost. A few more moments of “quiet within the chaos” might give the piece more emotional force.
Still, the leading character of Oskar is brought vividly to life by puppeteer Sarah Wright, said Nigel Smith in The Stage. And there’s a raft of brilliant acting and vocal performances across the board. This is a “glorious” theatrical achievement: challenging, certainly – but “captivating” and funny too.