The Tin Drum – Kneehigh

One of the defining novels of the 20th Century, Gunter Grass’ dazzling tour de force, The Tin Drum will be brought to thrilling theatrical life in a co-production with Kneehigh, Liverpool Everyman Playhouse and West Yorkshire Playhouse. Directed by Mike Shepherd with music by Charles Hazelwood, The Tin Drum is a folktale for troubled times: a dark, burlesque comic extravaganza, which is at once daringly provocative, political and profound. Ruth will join the cast performing on harp and synths. Performances take place from September until Christmas in Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, Truro and London.

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There’s a similarly surreal quality to Kneehigh’s new adaptation, written by Carl Grose with a chaotic, genre-mashing score by Charles Hazlewood. Oskar’s experiences in turbulent mid 20th-century Europe are divided up among an ensemble of 10. First-person narration becomes a multi-vocal cacophony – a riot of musical storytelling.

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In Grass’s bizarre fable, Oskar is born with solemn, precocious wisdom. He emerges from the womb already weary of humankind’s folly and greed. By the age of three, fed up with the games of adults, he decides to remain a child for ever. Banging on the tin drum given to him by his mother or smashing windows with his ear-shredding screams, the diminutive Oskar attempts to make himself heard in a world being rapidly swallowed by darkness.

Kneehigh seize on the novel’s folk-tale qualities, making its account of life in Danzig (now Gdańsk in Poland) before, during and after the second world war a sort of allegory for conflict. The show begins “once upon a war” – which war doesn’t really matter, the performers tell us – in a bombed-out ballroom. The Nazi party has become the shady, non-specific “Order”, led by an alluring rock-star figure. The prescient suggestion is that anyone, at any time, can fall under the spell of fascism.