Michael Morpurgo and Emma Rice
Kneehigh in association with Birmingham and Berkeley repertory theatres
26 October 2016 to 29 October 2016
Director Emma Rice may have frightened the Globe with her approach to Shakespeare, but her animated and infectious theatrical style perfectly suits this adaptation of another Michael Morpurgo book.
Earlier this week it was announced she would foreshorten her tenure at the London landmark. In the meantime one of the last pieces of work, with which she made her name at Kneehigh theatre company, arrives here on a national tour.
Mention Morpurgo and theatre box office takings light up. There's certainly a lot of the War Horse effect in this Second World War story about a child's lost cat, and the displacement of humans, as well as animals, by conflict.
The parallels with events in Calais are underscored by members of the cast making a bucket collection outside the theatre at the final curtain.
Adolphus Tips is the missing moggy of the title, while the number refers to the American servicemen's lives lost in a tragic wartime blunder off the coast of Devon, during a rehearsal for the D Day landings. It is the intricate and effective interweaving of these 'multi-story' strands over which Rice exercises her usual creative ability.
She makes the theatrically difficult seem simple, above all in the story telling, amidst some of the most controlled over-acting seen in some time. The Brechtian influences are emphasised from the start...
And that's besides introducing a live soul band, miniature and life-sized puppets, a community singalong, and fire and water into the staging. A dozen-strong cast interchange highly-skilled acting, singing, dancing and musicianship roles amongst nearly twice as many characters.
While this is a drilled ensemble, Katy Owen, as central character Lily, is a competent scene-stealer with a wonderfully expressive physical presence.
Lez Brotherston again provides an epic set design on a small scale.
Morpurgo himself has played a major role in turning his children's story into theatre for all ages and despite one or two muddlings of period and genre, in language and movement, they would have to be minor quibbles. By that time you've already surrendered to that inner child that resides in most of us and are just delighted to be along for the ride.
Grab a child quick (10+) and pretend it's their half term treat!
Reviewer: David Upton