Thursday, 18 August 2016

Review 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips

946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips
Adapted by Michael Morpurgo & Emma Rice
Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo

Jiving For Victory

On a balmy August evening, it was off to the South Bank and Shakespeare's Globe for an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's Second World War children's novel.

This family-friendly play with songs focuses on 12 year old Lily (Katy Owen, last seen as Puck in A Midsummer's Night Dream)  and her cat Tips (a puppet expertly handled by Nhandi Behebe). Lily's father, a Devon farmer, has been called up, leaving Lily, her Mum Dorothy and her Grandpa to tend the farm and the animals.

That is, until American GIs descend upon their villages and towns in preparation for the D-Day Landings in 1944 when all the residents are ousted from their homes to create a military training ground.

This is a bustling, rumbustious play directed with broad brush strokes by Emma Rice. In an era when often small-scale plays are often over expanded to fit large stages, this design by Lez Brotherston triumphantly fills the space with musicians on the balcony above, huge aircraft propellers on the pillars activated by chain pulleys and sandbags on either side.

Michael Morpurgo was inspired by a real-life tragedy when a landings' rehearsal with an American convoy, left exposed when a British vessel went into port for repairs and a SNAFU over radio frequencies, killed nearly a 1,000 American soldiers and sailors off the Devon  coast.

With a mash up of songs, some original (composer Stu Baker) and some from the decades after the the Second World War, energetic jitterbug choreography (Rice with Etta Murfitt) and broad comedy, there's a lot to enjoy for all kids and grown ups. At the same time dramatically there is sometimes a piecemeal feel.

Several stories deal with important personal and huge subjects: A young girl's special relationship with her cat and the up-and-down relationship with her absent father; War; The arrival of black GIs in Britain and their reception by country folk; evacuees coming from the cities; A French Jewish refugee; The taking away of homes by the military; Coping with bereavement and coming forward in time the parent-child relationship after the mother's working life is over and the generation gap.

These are all there but sometimes feel skated over even though there are soe moments of charming insight and much of the more touching sentiment is loaded into songs movingly sung by American GI Harry (Nande Bebhe again).

In fact, one episode of war imagined by the young girl in the 1940s as a playground competition between Hitler and Churchill certainly had a germ of truth for your own true Brit duo.

An elderly relative who lived in France during World War II as a child once told TLT that when she heard about "La Guerre" (the war), she thought French leader Pétain and Hitler would go somewhere with their ceremonial uniforms and swords and fight a duel, explaining that was all she knew from the books she had read.

In the computer game world, young boy Boowie (Adam Sopp who also plays evacuee Barry) doesn't care for keeping a diary like his Gran (Mike Shepherd) as a young girl, although he's persuaded to read it eventually. We could have done with more of these moments integrated into the story. While the comedy was welcome, it also sometimes outstayed its welcome rather than pushing the story along.

Nevetheless this is first and foremost a children's show and, while it may be worth asking when booking tickets for little ones about sightlines in The Globe, it's certainly a brisk and fun take on a moment in history.

Plus seeing actors take on different characters, then puppeteering or picking up musical instruments and also being given an explanation of why the all-singing, all-dancing Blues Man (Adebayo Bolaji) is all seeing may well give kids an insight into stagecraft. So it's an amber/green light from your own fly-the-flag-of-world-0f-theatre duo!

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