×

London Theater Review: ‘946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips’

With:
Nandi Bhebhe, Adebayo Bolaji, Emma Darlow, Ncuti Gatwa, Kyla Goodey, Chris Jared, Katy Owen, Mike Shepherd, Adam Sopp, Ewan Wardrop, Pat Moran, Seasmas Carey.

Even war has its blue-sky days. Opening with Brecht’s question — “In the dark times, will there also be singing?” — Kneehigh, the company behind Broadway’s “Brief Encounter,” respond with a resounding yes at Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s the perfect home for a troupe that colludes with its audience at every turn, treating theater with a breath of fresh air. If homefront novel “The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips,” by “War Horse” author Michael Morpurgo, shows everyday life in extraordinary times, Kneehigh’s inimitable style of boisterous play brings life to death in this adaptation, called “946.” In the process, the production proves a tonic for our own troubled times.

Set in the sleepy Devonshire village of Slapton, a world away from the front line, Morpurgo’s story follows one family in a snapshot of homefront life. While the war rages elsewhere, Grandpa Tregenza (Mike Shepherd) and his daughter plough on in the fields, and 12-year-old Lily (Katy Owen) is as mischievous as ever, forever chasing after her pet cat Tips. Life, as they say, goes on.

And yet, everything changes. Even here, in deepest Devon, the war makes its presence felt. Fathers are absent and supplies are short. A trainload of evacuees arrive, then a garrison of US soldiers on training exercises, among them Adi (Ncuti Gatwa) and Harry (Nandi Bhebe). They provide the stage adaptation’s title: 946 died when a D-Day trial run was ambushed by German U-boats. One crossed wire — that’s all — left almost a thousand men dead.

Morpurgo shows that modern war makes the whole world a battleground, but Kneehigh push back with playful aplomb. With the upbeat jollity of an military variety show — there are drag turns and spoons routines — the whole thing insists that it takes more than a world war to bring the human spirit down. Adebayo Bolaji and his blues band burst into song, and American soldiers erupt into fizzing jives. Fluffy white clouds hang behind Les Brotherston’s sandbag fortress. Hershey bars are handed out. Young love still blossoms and friendships still form.

Not that Kneehigh — in this production directed by its former leader Emma Rice, now the artistic director at Shakespeare’s Globe — neglect the somber side. The company twist domestic items and playthings into images of war. School desks become barricades, and toy boats in bathtubs become the English Channel on alert. It’s the fusion of the two that’s so powerful.

Yet lightness wins out every time, and this is a joyous night’s entertainment. Owen, such a brilliant Puck earlier this year at the Globe, brings the same boundless energy to Lily, playing with her pigtails and flailing her arms when she runs. It’s an acutely observed version of childhood — she rolls her ankles and clutches her skirt — but more than that, it’s a performance that sweeps an audience along.

In a show about keeping morale up, that’s absolutely key, and “946” pays tribute to a whole nation’s resilience, its role in the war effort. As it does so, it floats all sorts of ideas, from the cultural cross-pollination born out of alliances to the sheer vitality of the elderly. They were young once, but many of their peers weren’t so lucky. Even blue-sky days have their sadness.

London Theater Review: '946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips'

Shakespeare’s Globe, London; 1557 seats; £45 ($58) top. Opened Aug. 17, 2016. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Production: A Shakespeare’s Globe production of a play in two acts adapted by Michael Morpurgo and Emma Rice.

Creative: Original story by Michael Morpurgo; Directed by Emma Rice. Production design, Les Brotherston; lighting, Malcolm Rippeth; sound, Simon Baker; Composer, Stu Barker.

Cast: Nandi Bhebhe, Adebayo Bolaji, Emma Darlow, Ncuti Gatwa, Kyla Goodey, Chris Jared, Katy Owen, Mike Shepherd, Adam Sopp, Ewan Wardrop, Pat Moran, Seasmas Carey.

More Legit

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    StubHub Refunds $500,000 to Customers Shut Out by New York Blackout

    Saturday’s blackout in New York had an outsized effect on the city’s nightlife, with Madison Square Garden and the entire Broadway district seeing multiple shows cancelled due to the the power outage. As a result, StubHub has refunded more than $500,000 worth of tickets for cancelled events. According to a statement from the company, the StubHub [...]

  • Warner Music Group Logo

    Warner Music Acquires Musical Theater Indie First Night Records

    Warner Music Group has acquired First Night Record, an independent record label for West End and Broadway musical theatre cast recordings. The company will be overseen by WMG’s Arts Music Division, led by President Kevin Gore. First Night co-founder John Craig will join the Arts Music team under a multi-year consulting agreement to identify and record musical theatre productions in [...]

  • Broadway

    Broadway Back In Biz After Power Outage Ends

    The bright lights of Broadway were back on Sunday morning as midtown Manhattan recovered from a power outage that lasted nearly seven hours in some areas. Social media was full of examples of how New Yorkers rose to the occasion after the power went out on a hot Saturday night shortly before 7 p.m. ET. [...]

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    Power Restored in New York City After Massive Outage Hits Broadway

    UPDATED: Power has gradually been restored to Midtown Manhattan and the theater district after what New York City officials described as a rolling blackout that darkened Times Square and other high-traffic areas on Saturday night. Officials said all power should be restored to the 73,000 customers affected by the outage by midnight ET. Local media [...]

  • Slave Play

    Controversial 'Slave Play' Is Broadway Bound

    “Slave Play,” a controversial drama that examined race and sexuality, is moving to Broadway for a limited run. Written by theatrical wunderkind Jeremy O. Harris, “Slave Play” was a sensation when it ran at the New York Theatre Workshop, drawing such bold-faced names as Madonna, Scarlett Johansson, and Tony Kushner. The show will debut at [...]

  • Mary Said What She Said

    Critic's Notebook: Seeing Isabelle Huppert and Dimitris Papaioannou in Paris

    “Do you miss Paris?” I get that question a lot, but never know what to say. How could I not? The two years I spent in that splendid city covering international cinema for Variety changed my life. “What do you miss most about Paris?” That’s a tough one too. The booksellers on the sidewalk in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content