Friday, September 09, 2016



Kneehigh at Shakespeare's Globe

In the dark times, will there be singing?”
It's not every family show that cites Brecht in the first moments. This is Kneehigh's big-hearted adaptation of the Morpurgo story of one girl, her cat and the Second World War.
Emma Rice has brought it to the Globe, as she did with the equally enchanting Flying Lovers earlier in the season.
It sits well in the democratic space of the Wooden O, though the Globe adds little to the experience. The groundlings, as usual, get the best of it. The actors, clad in overalls, sweep the yard before the action, the excellent blues band warms up from the musician's gallery.
There is plenty of music throughout – underscoring, which is becoming a feature at Rice's Globe – telling the band to shut up for a bit raises a hearty laugh. But there's also a knees-up with banjo and beer bottles, and a haunting spiritual from a dead GI.
South Devon, 1943. Home to Lily, her cat and her family. But they are soon to be made homeless by Exercise Tiger, rehearsal manoeuvres for D-Day. Also far from home are a French schoolmistress, evacuees from London, and American troops.
It's an inventive, engaging production – the landing craft, tiny models, sail, and burn, in tin baths at the front of the stage. Tips the cat is a rag-doll puppet. Young Lily dreams of a playground face-off, complete with skipping rhymes, to settle the conflict between Hitler and Churchill.
Great performances all round, not least from Katy Owen as Lily, feistier and flirtier than in the book. Ncuti Gatwa and Nandi Bhebhe are the two black Americans, Adi and Harry, Chris Jared Lily's father, as well as the village parson and Grandad. Ewan Wardrop gives hilarious broad-brush comedy as the Lord of the Manor and the brassy mother of evacuee Barry [Adam Sopp]. And there's a memorable double from Mike Shepherd as a grumpy Grandad and Lily in later life, reunited at last with the older Adi, played by hep cat Adebayo Bolaji, who's also in charge of the music.
As in War Horse, a young person's search for a beloved animal, lost in the wider world of war, is at the heart of the story. There is a happy ending, but the tragedy and the loss of life is not sanitised. There's dignity as well as daftness in this hugely enjoyable ensemble piece.

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