946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips @ The West Yorkshire Playhouse review

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Fresh from the news that previous Kneehigh creative director Emma Rice had been asked to step down from her current position at The Globe, I was highly curious about 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, a production by Kneehigh that started its life at The Globe. Immediately I could see why Rice’s work wasn’t perhaps so popular at The Globe – if it was anything like 946 perhaps they just couldn’t contain it, as 946 is practically spilling over with creativity and colour.

‘946 is practically spilling over with creativity and colour.’

The story is an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel about 12 year-old Lily’s (the brilliant Katy Owen) experience of war-time Britain as she’s forced to leave her home to make way for allied training grounds, losing her beloved cat in the process. Two ‘yank’ soldiers come to the rescue, and promise to retrieve Tips if they can. Kneehigh’s reputation for beautiful puppetry endures through the deftly incorporated and very life-like puppet Tips. Even though the horrors of war are mostly filtered through a child’s perspective, it’s enough to be touching and poignant. And when the ‘946’ of the title becomes relevant, lit tea-lights in plastic boats and bathtubs hint at the botched operation very effectively and imaginatively – enough to be quite shocking.

‘Adults play children with gleeful abandon, their movements spiky, impulsive and inherently child-like, and the production delights in gender-swapping too.’

As usual, Kneehigh throw the rulebook out the window. Adults play children with gleeful abandon, their movements spiky, impulsive and inherently child-like, and the production delights in gender-swapping too. ‘Grandma’ is fantastically played by a tattooed actor in a shabby wig, who later transforms into Barry’s mother, complete with leopard print dress and a lot of muscled leg. Action is punctuated by numbers from a jazz and blues band suspended on a platform above the stage, from which actors swap in and out of, wonderfully conscious of their own multi-roling as they grin out at the audience from behind their violin. The spirit of the night is fun, and yet I was not the only audience member to be reduced to tears by several tender moments.

The Globe have lost out if productions like 946 won’t continue to feature. Outward looking and wondrously creative, it’s story-telling at its very best.

Heather Nash

(Image courtesy of Steve Tanner)

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