BWW Review: THE TIN DRUM, Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
Disjointed. Chaotic. Haunting. The Tin Drum is a chilling tale that resonates in so many eras of society. Based on the 1959 novel Die Blechtrommel by Günter Grass, Kneehigh's production tells the story of Oskar, a boy born into the world already weary with the state of humanity. We see everything through his narration, from his mother's childhood to the war-torn place he lives in.
Adaptor Carl Grose describes Oskar, who decides to stop growing up aged three, as "the vivid outsider. Oskar the trickster. Oskar the alien". A realisation that he came to after hearing David Bowie had died. In Grose's mind, Oskar then became more than the unreliable narrator from the novel, but a "loud-mouth punk here to save the world from conformity".
The script is masterfully crafted around this idea, with Oskar's piercing scream that shatters windows and social critiques like "Obedience makes fools think they are free", which lingers unnervingly.
Paper plays a large role throughout, adding an element of whimsy. Having paper chains and paper airplanes as props highlights that although Oskar is technically the child of the play, his wisdom and understanding far outshines the adults.
It also makes the statement that not everything is permanent - many things can simply be ripped apart or blown away. Even the Black Witch, a clear reference to Hitler, is seemingly blown out of the picture by Oskar's drumming.
The clash of Charles Hazlewood's futuristic music and the Twenties-style costumes is jarring. At times the voices of the actors harmonise beautifully, and at others they're disconnected, messy even. It's a technique that powerfully illustrate the feeling of the scene when words couldn't fully do it justice.
The dizzying vocal range of Damon Duanno, playing the likeable Jan Bronski, the lover of Oskar's mother, is used perfectly. In any other situation it could almost be comical, however here it's simply haunting and shows the anguish of a gentle, lovelorn man.
The first half isn't quite as strong as the second, with a lot of shorter stories interweaved into the plot to show the early life of Oskar's mother and grandmother. However, the introduction of the Oskar puppet is exciting and innovative.
This pale, deep-eyed puppet, created by Lyndie Wright, realises the alien vision Grose had for the character. It's a triumph, from his fake but piercing eyes staring out at the audience, to the way Sarah Wright, Kneehigh's puppeteer, moves him around the stage in a way that makes him almost come to life.
Director Mike Shepherd also adds a few nods to 2017, and potentially even further. Some smaller scenes see characters wearing tracksuit tops, caps and in one a futuristic blue wig; there's even a hint of technology with a mobile phone. It's a subtle way of showing that this is not just a folk story based in the past, but one that could well become a reality again.
It is certainly a feast for the senses, with music, dancing, lighting and even the slight smell of burning. Everything about it is immersive. The second half sees the play speed up with dance numbers becoming almost organised chaos at times, with stomping and wild arm gestures that conjure an atmosphere of anticipation for what's to come.
The Tin Drum is a show full of complexities - even featuring a song called "Viva la Complexity" - that leaves a lot of questions unanswered. But sometimes, the best kind of theatre leaves you with space to think for yourself, to draw your own conclusions.
The Tin Drum at Everyman Theatre, Liverpool until 14 October, then on tour
Photo Credit: Steve Tanner