The Tin Drum
West Yorkshire Playhouse
On one level the story can seem simple, almost childish, with Nursery Rhyme overtones of drums and toy shops – yet ‘The Tin Drum’ is fiendishly diverse and complex tale that defies any brief summary. A child genius, Oskar, is born to a background of social and political turmoil; he discovers a God like power of control through his tin drum the beast of which ricochets and reverberates through the story like some sinister eighties disco beat. By the time he has reached manhood he has lost his parents (all three of them), fallen in love with his father’s mistress and seen his homeland ripped apart through ethnic cleansing by a Nazi style regime. Along the way he’s realised he can shatter glass and ear drums by screaming and has made the decision to stop the ageing process by throwing himself down stairs, aged four. This is not a boy to mess with and the childish ferocity and reach of his power are mirrored in the equally ferocious social upheavals going on around him. This all may sound rather confused, this may sound messy- but then life generally is, especially in its darker elements and especially in the problems and dynamics of societies in chaos- never more so in these days of Brexit, Mexican border walls and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.
The story, adapted from the novel by Gunter Grass by Carl Grosse is fittingly, energetically and fantastically brought to life by Kneehigh under the direction of Mike Shepherd with a veritable smorgasbord of puppets, shadows, explosions and models alongside actors singing to a live orchestra, often in a pastiche of 80’s music (the era from when the iconic film adaptation became popular) Notable in a cast as dynamic and vital as the effects are Rina Fatania as Oskar’s earth-grandmother producing food, geese, guns and even Oskar’s grandfather from under voluminous skirts and Damon Daunno as Oskar’s doomed, tenor voiced (maybe) father.
But it’s the sheer spectacle of the production that stays in the mind. Some of the events are show stopping: a procession of tiny people are marched towards death camps, paper windows shredded to Oskar’s unearthly scream. Occasionally, for me, spectacle won out over story and the pace slowed as a single dramatic point was showcased over a song or movement but the enthusiasm of the audience- the predominantly and refreshingly young audience showed me that I in was in a minority in this respect.
And then there was the spectacle of Oskar. Uncannily and eerily realised as a blue-tinged marionette he possessed a commanding stage presence that was all his own.
The energy and the spectacle of this uneasy story were undeniable, I left with many thoughts and reflections that will stay with me and recur and prompt my own thoughts and reflections about the equally uneasy times I live in.
The Tin Drum will now play at Shoreditch Town Hall from 6 – 23 December 2017.