Friday, 10 November 2017

'The Tin Drum' at Bristol Old Vic

Photo: Steve Tanner

Hurray! Kneehigh Theatre Company is back in town. Everyone loves Kneehigh - the experimental but accessible Cornish company that prides itself on breathing new life into forgotten fairy tales. And now here they are with a re-telling of the 1959 G√ľnter Grass post-war tale The Tin Drum, directed by Kneehigh artistic director Mike Shepherd. Grass’ original book received the Nobel Prize for Literature, such was its impact and its reflection of World War Two.

When Oskar turns three, he decides life would be better if he never grew up so he resolves to remain a child forever by taking drastic action. Fueled by his anger, his angelic singing voice and his indestructible tin drum, Oskar steels himself to face the world from perpetual infancy. But plans don’t always work out how you want them to, and Oskar hasn’t accounted for the Black Witch and her hold on his world.

What follows is a story about love and war, written by Carl Grose from Grass’s original text, and with a musical score composed by Charles Hazlewood; another two Kneehigh stalwarts. I feel special mention must be given to Hazlewood’s score here, which is truly extraordinary. It has strong echoes of early, raw, electro, Travelogue-era Human League throughout, and is extremely successful in conveying the growing, claustrophobia and panic that consumes a community being enveloped by war and hatred.

But how do we know we can trust Oskar as a narrator? He is a peculiarly self-aware foetus at one stage, and later an angry, precocious and bitter toddler, resentful in the most childish of ways. But he has insight and wisdom. And despite being a mere puppet (and I’ll be honest, when I saw there was a puppet in the cast I really sighed as I do feel puppets have been done to death in contemporary theatre lately), his hollow, dark-eyed face manages to convey a range of emotions depending on which angle the light catches him.

However, the stars of this Kneehigh production of The Tin Drum are undoubtedly Hazlewood’s compelling and effective score and the actor Patrycja Kujawska, who has been with the company for almost 10 years and is always an utter joy to watch.

The Tin Drum is a very special and important show, and has stripped a complex novel down to its bare bones. The audience is left with no doubt that although Grass’ novel was about World War Two, the Kneehigh production is equally a statement about the current state we find ourselves in a terrifying new world.

The Tin Drum is performed at Bristol Old Vic until 18 November, when it continues its tour to Cornwall and then Shoreditch. Click here for more info.

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