Kneehigh Theatre’s 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips
Kneehigh is an energetic theatre group that has brought life and energy to many a work. Director Emma Rice has excelled in making her piece, ‘946 The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips.’ The inspiration for the story comes from Devon. Mixed with the D Day (Normandy) rehearsals of the landing of the American troupes, in opposition to a local farming family having to move from their home with the loss of their much loved missing cat. The Americans came inland but there was a mishap with communications and German U-boats torpedoed the Americans in an exercise called, Operation Tiger, 25th April 1944.
Lifted up high at the back of the stage is the band. They are, in what looks like, an air raid shelter. At the front of this part of the open stage is a plane propeller. The uplifting music brings atmosphere to the whole play. The music and songs are relevant to what is happening as the play goes along. For instance, when the Grandfather dies, they sing, ‘let him go,’ by the Beatles.
Adding depth to the story. Maya Angelou’s quote is used. ‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.’ To bring the story of a young girl and her cat to life, a puppet of a cat is created. The relationship of the child and her cat is symbolic and on a parallel with love and loss at the time. The play shows how war disrupts routine, and safety.
When the war begins, the cat goes missing, as do many of the soldiers. However, when the cat returns, it shows how precious life is and pertains to there being hope in life. The stage set up adheres to Lilly growing up. The classroom scenes, are especially poignant, with Lilly only being 12 and learning being an important part of her life.
Then the Americans come bringing diversity, difference, change and energy to the piece. They bring dance and song, in collaboration with the band. On the front of the stage set up, on a level with the audience, there are many old-fashioned steal bath tubs. In the bath tubs are big boats and cruisers. When the war starts, the bath tubs are targeted with fire and things that smash in to the water disrupting the boats stability.
The next quote comes from Martin Luther King. ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.’ This was spoken in a Christian sermon in 1957 from Luther King himself. In the play the cat returning home is symbolic of light being brought in to drive out the darkness and horror of war. It shows that through negativity, positivity can shine brightly when it is so unexpected. The cat returning after being lost, (like the soldiers do), is symbolic of light and hope shining through, no matter how dark things become.
The play is a heartfelt piece of work and pinpoints a difficult part of history. As Angelou points out, up until now, an untold story inside someone. It shows out of despair can come hopefulness and the will to carry on.
Reviewed by Jane Austwick at West Yorkshire Playhouse. See Kneehigh website for more info.