I met Michael Morpurgo when I was about twelve years old and he signed my copy of Kensuke’s Kingdom – it was the best day ever (at the time). Ever since I have been in awe of him as a writer and storyteller. He has this incredible knack of evoking every emotion in you; his books make you laugh out loud and sob uncontrollably all at the same time. For this reason, The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips is not simply a ‘kids’ book, it’s a story that uncovers some cold hard truths about World War 2. I went to see the production of it on 12 August at The Globe and thought it would be a nice one to mention in my blog, especially because it was my first time at The Globe.
The tale is based on a real life event that happened on 27 April 1944. American troops ventured over to Slapton Sands in South Devon to practice and fully prepare for Operation Overload on 6 June 1944, the D-Day landings on Utah Beach, France. However, this didn’t go quite to plan as German ships launched a torpedo attack in the Lyme Bay area, resulting in the deaths of 946 American soldiers. This mistake was kept under wraps until 40 years after the Normandy landings, thus the story of Adolphus Tips is partly a reminder of what actually went on at that time.
But this adaptation by Emma Rice and Michael Morpurgo is far from doom and gloom. Naturally, this is helped a lot by Kneehigh, who utilise their familiar tropes; live music, puppetry and physical theatre. The show opens with a live band led by Adebayo Bolaji wearing a slick black satin suit; he proves to be an excellent frontman and interacts throughout with Lily Tregenza (Katy Owen), who is the protagonist of the story. She’s a twelve year old girl brought up in Slapton around the war; we follow her throughout her life as she is constantly on the look out for her cat, Tips and eventually makes friends with the adorable evacuee, Barry (Adam Sopp).
The live music aspect proves to be the highlight of the show; it ranges from folk to American inspired jazz. One of my favourite parts is when American soldiers, Adi (Ncuti Gatwa) and Harry (Nandi Bhebhe) come to visit the Tregenza’s to celebrate Thanksgiving and it turns into a lively, vibrant party with jazz music and tap dancing. It’s a all swinging, all dancing extravaganza. The actors genuinely look like they’re having a lot of fun, and so are we! The idea that a group of people from very different backgrounds can still unite in times of turmoil is an ever-present theme in this story. In fact, the famous quote by Martin Luther King is mentioned to highlight this:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
And of course, as I previously mentioned, it wouldn’t be a true Kneehigh production if puppets didn’t make an appearance somewhere. I’m always amazed at how seamlessly the cast work them into the piece; you barely notice the puppeteer at all! You end up falling head over heels for Tips the cat, which is very much down to the incredible level of puppetry from Nandi Bhebhe.
At the beginning we’re introduced to Boowie (Adam Sopp), Lily’s grandson in the present day as a miniature puppet running around the farm kicking a ball around with his sheepdog. This tiny puppet scene is transfixing and so cleverly done; it really helps set the scene as we are then introduced to the life size Boowie and puppet sheep dog. In my opinion, this technique could have been used more throughout. However, for a large space like The Globe, I can understand why they avoided doing it too often.
The Globe proves to be an incredible venue for this type of production; there are propellers attached to the front of the stage which are powered by cast members and are used to dramatise the battle scenes. This and the metal baths full of cold water at the front make it an all-encompassing experience. Here’s why. Naturally, it’s difficult to portray a battleship scene on stage, but Kneehigh tackle this with ease; while Bolagi narrates the action, the other cast members dive small battleships into the tin baths, splashing water over all of us in the yard; it’s an incredibly immersive experience. We feel physically and emotionally taken over by the whole event and it’s absolutely breathtaking.
I honestly can’t imagine any other theatre company doing it better; Kneehigh add fun and energy as well as moments of thoughtfulness and peace. As always, the cast are incredibly talented in the way they multi-role, pick up instruments on the fly and burst into song. Katy Owen as young Lily is a burst of life with a touch of mischievousness about her, although she could do with a little toning down as she tends to be a distraction. Another favourite of mine is Ncuti Gatwa as young Adi; he’s instantly charming with a smile that could stop a bus. Honestly, just look (the one on the left):
Anyway, if you do get a chance to swing by The Globe, it’s on till 11 September – so get your tickets now! It’s only a fiver to stand in the yard, and the show is so good that you don’t even notice you’re standing for that long.
Whether you’ve read the story or not, it’s an enchanting show that’s guaranteed to pull on those heart strings.
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