946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips

© Steve Tanner, Ncuti Gatwa as GI Adi

Shakespeare’s Globe, London (****)`

Bertolt Brecht said, in the dark times there will be singing’, says a character at the beginning of this adaptation by Michel Morpurgo, Kneehigh director and now Shakespeare Globe’s artistic director, Emma Rice of Morpurgo’s WWII delightful children’s story.

© Steve Tanner, Adebayo Bolaji as Blues Man, Ncuti Gatwa as GI Adi, Nandi Bhebhe as Harry and the Company

And don’t Kneehigh make that come life-enhancingly true. The one thing you can rely on with them is their inventiveness and pleasure factor. Morpurgo too has a way of transcending generations, appealing to all age groups. Together, he, Rice and the company which includes Kneehigh’s founder, Mike Shepherd charm the audience into their hearts with this affectionate, poignant rising-above-adversity, we’re-all in it together story. 

Morpurgo isn’t the only children’s author to have found valuable source material in WWII with which to speak to today’s young. But he’s probably the only one to match a child’s journey – Lily’s loss of her pet cat, Tips – with the real life tragedy of 946 American soldiers and sailors who died in Devon during D-Day rehearsals – an incident so successfully hushed up it only came to light 40 years on. 

© Steve Tanner, Tips the Cat and Katy Owen as Lily

As the incorrigible Lily, Katy Owen, brings a wonderful sense of ten year old truculence to a young girl who finds herself encountering bombs, injury, evacuees and the strange sight of black American GIs. Shepherd himself does a nice duo as the Grandma whose is the vehicle for flashback to wartime and as Lily’s grandfather.  

But there are delightful portraits all round in a cast whose style of performance is a steady balance of ingenuity (puppets, models, and a fabulous array of tin baths passing for D-Day harbour emplacements) with playful often moving realism.  

Death, love, sacrifice and the Holocaust all find their mirror in a two and a half hour show kept buoyant by music director Stu Barker’s terrific catalogue of musical numbers ranging through wartime swing, American spirituals, gospel, Nina Simone, Steppenwolf, John Denver led charismatically by Blues Man, Adebayo Bolaji. 

The ultimate `feel good’ family show, my only caveat would be a tendency to over-sentimentalise and someone should really remind Rice that those sitting at the side are also paid up audience members re sightlines!  

In all other respects, a triumph!

946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips runs at Shakespeares Globe to Sept 11, 2016

Review first published in Reviewsgate, Aug 2016