The Tin Drum

Adapted by Carl Grose, from the novel by Gün­ter Grass Di­rec­tor: Mike Shep­herd Mu­sic: Charles Ha­zle­wood

The Week - - Drama Arts -

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.

Oskar: brought vividly to life

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