By Patrick Hurley
Brecht once asked, “In the dark times, will there also be singing?”. Kneehigh’s production of 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, asks this question, and then answers it with a somewhat befuddled yes. There is singing, but the darkness is lightened in order to appeal to a broader audience, and the combination is less than effective. The play, which is playing now through March 5 at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the performing arts, has adapted children’s books into a sweet, somewhat endearing kind of Brechtian family musical experience, and that’s…a unique enough selling point, I’m sure.
The story centers on Lily (Katy Owen), a young girl in a desperate search for her cat, whose name gives the play it’s title, and is a puppet. Set in 1943, Lily and her family also happen to live in the spot where the famed botched rehearsal of D-day took place. The botched rehearsal ended in the tragic deaths of 946 soldiers, thus giving the play the rest of its title.
The production is an interesting experiment in a watered-down Brechtian approach to family entertainment, in an effort to make the show accessible and cathartic to a modern day audience. This is successful in one way, and unsuccessful in another. We see a little of the theatricality, and there is a band on stage, thus giving the appearance of the “seams” of the show. Letting us see the theatricality. There is no hiding the theatrical elements. However, the depth of character development, specifically from Katy Owen, whose twelve-year old Lily is wonderfully expressive and empathetic, diminishes the heightened political potential that the play could have delved further into.
This is not agitprop, nor is it even political, but it wears the garb of political theater and so the disconnect is jarring. Composer Stu Barker creates a soulful blend of style in the musicality and it adds something pleasant for the audience. This is definitely a crowd-pleasing type of show. Director Emma Rice knows how to elicit those “aww” moments, and she keeps the flow and rhythm of the piece from ever getting bogged down, despite a too long first half.Unfortunately, there aren’t enough moments of political weight to carry the show from frothy entertainment into something more profound. The use of music, puppets and allowing the audience to see all of the scene changes happen without interruption, were great opportunities for this play to rise above the level of fun and entertaining, but it lacks the power and political message that would be quite cathartic in today’s political climate. As it is, it’s a humorous and interesting story about a piece of history that many people may not know about, and it’s told in a somewhat inventive, if completely safe production.
946: The Amazing Story Of Adolphus Tips
By Michael Morpurgo & Emma Rice
Directed by Emma Rice
Feb 9-March 5
Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. Beverly Hills CA 90210