I got a flavour of the type of work Kneehigh creates from their version of The Beggar’s Opera, renamed Dead dog in a suitcase at Warwick’s art centre last year so I knew their latest production wouldn’t disappoint. I enjoyed reading Michael Morpurgo’s books as a child and I am a big advocate of Emma Rice’s directing vision so I was interested to see how they’d work together to adapt the novel into a play.
The performance was energetic and lively as expected. It’s a Kneehigh trait that the actors go that extra mile, dancing, playing instruments and using puppetry but I think this worked particularly well to engage a younger audience. The story is about a young girl living in Slapton sands, Devon during the second world war who is forced to move away from her home with her family and make way for troops meanwhile her cat Tips has gone missing. She befriends an evacuee and American troops who get enlisted in Slapton. I like how the puppets they used were different scales for example the cat and dog puppet were large whereas there was a tiny puppet of the troops in a car which was comical and let the audience use their imagination. The girl, Lily innocently pointed out the difference in her skin colour in contrast to the American troops which highlighted the era but also her acceptance. I like that kneehigh’s casting is colour blind and was also gender blind as a female played one of the troops.
I also liked how the stage design took small bits of information to represent the whole picture. Centre stage was a propellor attached to a platform to elevate the musicians and create the feeling of an aerocraft in wartime. The whole stage was made up of wooden planks in a circular form that was inspired by Cornelia Parker’s artwork ‘An exploded view’ and gave the feel of rural, farmland. My favourite design element was at the front of the stage where old, tin baths filled with water represented the sea and were used in a dramatic scene to show sinking ships at the D-day landings disaster. Small ships crashed into the tubs and set on fire whilst the action played out further upstage.
We attended an after show talk at the Birmingham Repertory where we were able to hear from the cast and director Emma Rice. It was insightful to hear about Rice’s vision of “Collective imagination” because she sees the company as an ensemble.