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Posts Tagged ‘Mike Shepherd’

Kneehigh may just have the best party in town this season. The combination of storytelling, creative immersive staging and willing participation is irresistible.

They’ve set it on an election night when the sitting president gets a second term, but Ubu and Mrs Ubu turn up, stage a coup and the tyranny begins. When the Ubu’s fall out over his oppression, war ensues, then revolution. Written by Carl Grouse, co-directed by him and his fellow Kneehigh AD Mike Shepherd, and based on Alfred Jarry’s 1896 play, it’s all accompanied by a great selection of pop and rock songs, played by a superb live band, whose lyrics contribute to the story.

The participation isn’t in the slightest bit enforced or uncomfortable, partly because a party atmosphere is created as you arrive, and partly because of their ingenious ways of engaging the audience. We sing along like crowd karaoke, with surtitles to help us, there are games and battles and some audience members get inflatable animals to create a zoo! Host Jeremy Wardle, brilliantly played by Niall Ashdown, keeps it all on track, and Katy Owen and Mike Shepherd are terrific as Ubu and Mrs Ubu respectively.

The design aesthetic spares us Kneehigh’s trademark white Y-fronts, but instead we get collar & tie on white vests with braces. Mrs Ubu only needs her hat to come alive. There’s a giant loo which is put to great use, and we fall in love with the magic bear. It’s very funny, but with a bit of a satirical bite and an underlying message, and of course rather timely, but above all its huge good-hearted fun and another tonic to divert us from the madness. Don’t miss it !

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Kneehigh have created a large number of very successful stage adaptations from diverse sources, but I think they may have been a touch ambitious and misguided with this one, Carl Grose’s adaptation of a 500-page 1950’s German political novel by Gunter Grass.

The central character Oskar is born with adult capacity but decides not to grow up. He narrates the events happening in the world from 1924 to 1954, a rather dramatic part of the 20th century, to put it mildly, from his perspective. Family scenes and political & social events are woven together to create an epic sweep, though it often comes over as a bit if a ramble.

The problem is that the material doesn’t really suit Kneehigh’s playful style. There’s too much of Charles Hazelwood’s music, often not fully fledged songs, so it feels like more like an opera than a play, and the synthesised instrumentation jarred with me. Together with the vast space, it conspires to make quite a lot of the spoken and sung dialogue barely audible.

It’s a pity, because Naomi Dawson’s design is great (the backdrop looks uncannily like it’s the venue’s real wall), the puppetry is excellent, Mike Shepherd’s staging is full of Kneehigh inventiveness and there are some fine performances, including Nandi Bhebhe and Damon Daunno as Oskar’s mum and dad, and personal favourite Beverley Rudd shining in a number of roles, including a policeman, nurse, Satan and a baby!

It was only the second of two previews, so maybe that was part of the problem, though it has been touring for over two months. I’m more inclined to think it’s the wrong kind of story for the Kneehigh magic.

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I always thought Kneehigh would suit the Globe Theatre space, but it also turns out that Michael Morpurgo and Kneehigh is a match made in heaven. This is wonderful storytelling – funny, moving and captivating. I laughed and cried and had a lovely time.

The backdrop to Morpurgo’s story is a little known event leading up to the D-Day landings in 1944. US forces had arrived on the South Devon coast in order to rehearse on the beaches. In November 1943, local people were evacuated and five months later the preparations led to Exercise Tiger at sea. The lack of a second support vessel and cock-ups in communication led to the death of 946 men. This was hushed up and it was 40 years before the truth became public.

The story is told through the life of twelve-year-old Lily, who’s dad is away in the war. She lives with her cat Tips, mum and granddad on his farm in Slapton. When they are evacuated, London evacuee and Lily’s school friend Barry joins them. Their teacher is herself a Jewish French refugee. They are befriended by young Black American GI’s Adolphus and Harry, who become as fond of Lily as the family is of them. The show is bookended by contemporary scenes where an elderly Lily, now a grandma herself, loses her husband, which frees her to return to her past.

This is such a heart-warming story. The meeting of three cultures provides much comedy, but even more warmth and empathy. There is a lot of music, some original, some well-known songs, with ‘the blues man’ and his band above the stage and the cast joining in with instruments, bottles, spoons and vocals. Lez Brotherston’s design uses sandbags and tin baths to great effect. The telling of the tale of Exercise Tiger is particularly inspired in Emma Rice’s delightful staging (she also co-adapted with Morpurgo).

It’s an excellent ensemble with Kneehigh AD Mike Shepherd as granddad (and contemporary Lily!), Adam Sopp as chirpy cockney evacuee Barry (and contemporary grandson Boowie) and Ncuti Gatwa and Nandi Bhebhe charming as Adolphus and Harry respectively. Ewan Wardrop provides a superbly funny cameo as Barry’s mum. Katy Owen is simply terrific as feisty, cheeky Lily – and an ever so believable 12-year old.

A delightful, enthralling evening that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

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A lot of ‘seasonal entertainment’ to pack into the last four days of 2010 and first up comes the usually reliable and often wonderful Cornish company Kneehigh, though I wasn’t saying that at the interval after a very slow chunk of story-telling lacking in their trademark inventiveness!

Things looked up in the second half, with a lot more creativity and much more pace. Carl Grose lived up to his name as a positively gross witch and Edith Tankus came into her own as The Bird, both now bringing a balance to the occasionally overly twee charm of Chris Price’s Hansel and Joanna Holden’s Gretel. In this second half, the set comes alive and the music truly complimentary – in short, the Kneehigh we expect.

Hansel & Gretel is a slight tale to spin out to over hours, and an intimate piece of storytelling to fill the QEH. When it’s good, its great, but Mike Shepherd’s production desperately needs some editing and needs to pull a few punches earlier on before the audience contemplates giving up and leaving at the interval. 

It’s advised for 7+. What is it about parents that makes them think they know better? The number of bored and scared under 7’s was extraordinary – no doubt their parents queued up to complain at the end…..

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