dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Zany adaptation of Morpurgo novel
Kneehigh Theatre Company's stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's children's novel is action-packed, zany, colourful and heart-warming. Adapted by Morpurgo and director Emma Rice, it blends music, dance, drama, puppetry and visual effects in a kaleidoscope of story-telling.
Based on true events around Slapton Sands in the run-up to the World War Two D-Day landings, the story reveals how vastly different backgrounds can be overcome to create strong bonds and life-long friendships.
Initially we meet the folk of Slapton, whose country ways are highlighted by the arrival of evacuees from London. But they face an even bigger culture clash when a group of American GIs, many of whom are black, are stationed in the area to prepare for the Normandy invasion.
American soldiers lead the dance
The arrival of the Americans means entire families suddenly having to leave their homes – including that of youngster Lily Treganza who lives with her mum, grandfather and cat Tips on a local farm. In the move, Tips goes missing but two of the GIs, Harry and Adolphus (Adi) promise to find the cat. And so a special friendship blossoms between the unconventional schoolgirl and the soldiers.
Cornwall-based Kneehigh are never shy of giving a production their own special touch and this show is no different. There are men taking the parts of women, puppets for Tips and actors slipping back and forth between playing parts and playing musical instruments. In a set designed by Lez Brotherston, the company also imaginatively recreates the disastrous pre-D-Day Exercise Tiger, in which 946 service personnel lost their lives when they were attacked by Nazi E-boats, with a mix of models and bath tubs.
Katy Owen is a wilful Lily, a child full of contradictions but also full of love while Adam Sopp is her friend Barry, evacuated from London and seated next to her in class. Ncuti Gatwa and Nandi Bhebhe are bursting with energy as Adi and Harry as they zip around the stage, dancing on tables one minute and battling enemy fire the next. Kneehigh artistic director Mike Shepherd gives the show plenty of comedy, taking on roles as diverse as Lily in the present day and her grandfather in the past.
The musicians, led by Adebayo Bolaji, are also an integral element in the production and composer Stu Barker ensures that many of the songs take the story forward.
As with many of Morpurgo's stories including War Horse and Private Peaceful, there is plenty of sadness in this show and some of the ideas and references will hit home with adults more than children but there is also plenty to please youngsters.
At Birmingham Rep until October 15 and then on national tour. See here for tour details.