Review: The Tin Drum at the Everyman

Credit: Steve Tanner

By Andy Green

THE Tin Drum is based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Gunter Grass and those familiar with the book or even the 1979 film will appreciate that adapting it for the stage is an ambitious undertaking.

Writer Carl Grose has taken the 500 page novel and, along with director Mike Shepherd and composer Charles Hazlewood, has created an exciting and enthralling piece of theatre.

The Tin Drum is a co-production between Kneehigh, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse and West Yorkshire Playhouse. Cornwall-based Kneehigh are no strangers to the Everyman stage having previously wowed audiences with the ridiculously good Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) and they’ve spent the last weeks of rehearsal here in Liverpool – they love the buzz of the city according to E&P executive director Deborah Aydon.

The Tin Drum tells the story of Oskar, an extraordinary boy who is fully aware even before he is born. At the age of three, horrified at the adult world he decides to stop growing up.  Oskar is (eventually) given a tin drum for his birthday and armed with this and a glass-shattering scream he sets out to change the world.

The play implicitly covers the rise of Nazism and its effect on the lives and attitudes of the people of Danzig from Oskar’s unique perspective.

Oskar is represented by an initially very creepy puppet, expertly manipulated by Sarah Wright with the help of various members of the cast. The creepiness soon wears off though as the play progresses and you find yourself rooting for the little guy.

Oskar is voiced by Bettrys Jones and Dom Coyote who also play Maria and the Storyteller respectively. Coyote has an amazingly versatile singing voice and produces many a spine-tingling moment.

This was an impeccable ensemble performance but special mention needs to go to Nandi Bhebhe who plays Oskar’s mother Agnes – she possesses a beautiful voice. Rina Fatania as Oskar’s pragmatic grandmother provides the comic relief especially when hiding Patrycja Kujawska’s Joseph under her skirts.

Charles Hazlewood’s atmospheric score harks back to the early synth sounds of the late 70s and early 80s and with the majority of the dialogue sung it is an integral part of the piece. So does that make this an opera? That’s up for debate but it works, whatever you decide to call it.

I was told by people familiar with the novel to expect something ‘very heavy’ and ‘decidedly strange’ from The Tin Drum. This production is certainly wonderfully strange but no way is it heavy going; it moves along at a cracking pace with an easy to follow narrative and it looks really good too.

This is an energetic, engaging and thought-provoking piece that received a thoroughly deserved standing ovation and maintains Kneehigh’s reputation for world-class theatre.

The Tin Drum is at the Everyman until 14 October.