Review: The Tin Drum at Liverpool Everyman ****
Kneehigh are back. The purveyors of that piece of theatrical perfection, Dead Dog in a Suitcase (And Other Love Songs), have returned to the Everyman with another slice of startling storytelling.
And while The Tin Drum, based on Npbel Prize-winner Gunter Grass’s novel, may not have the irresistible charm of Dead Dog, it’s still an impressively inventive piece of theatre.
Grass is adapted by Grose – Carl Grose - in this retelling of the German author’s tale of magical realism, as the triumvirate behind Dead Dog, director Mike Shepherd and composer Charles Hazlewood being the other two, reunite.
Many of the Cornish theatre magicians’ signature styles are brought in to play – physical storytelling, arresting visuals, puppetry, and an eclectic soundtrack of rich melodies.
Oskar Matzerath is born in the free city of Danzig knowing everything. And at the age of three, looking at the adults around him, he determines he does not want to grow up.
The Tin Drum. Photographs by Steve Tanner
He is also the owner of a drum that he beats with relentless ferocity, and a piercing scream which can shatter glass – a destructive trait mirrored later in the story when he becomes caught up in a Kristallnacht.
Oskar, played by a puppet, has two ‘presumptive’ fathers, the dull grocer Alfred (Les Bubb) who is complicit in his own corruption by ‘the Party’ (whose charismatic leader is part Blondie, part Madonna), and Pole Jan Bronski (Damon Daunno) “condemned to live a life of romantic impossibility”, who falls with the fall of the Polish Post Office to Party troopers.
He also has a brilliantly feisty granny in the form of Rina Fatania, returning to the Everyman stage after playing Mrs Peachum in Dead Dog.
The story, penned in 1959 but remaining politically apt with its rise of the far right, mass displacement of people and persecution of minorities, unfolds on designer Naomi Dawson’s distressed, double-height Mittel European interior with ever-shifting decorative iron staircases and a giant chandelier.
Look out for the clever little flourishes and richly symbolic additions.
In the book, Oskar narrates his own tale from a mental hospital, but here it unfolds through Dom Coyote’s Storyteller, the company’s excellent chorus, and Hazlewood’s delicious, drowsy and sinuous score, which plays fast and loose with everything from a melancholy waltz to hints of Abba, punk protest, sacred music, and Jesus Christ Superstar-style rock opera.
And while it’s difficult to take many of the characters to your heart, there’s still an awful lot to admire in this latest Kneehigh show.