946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Through March 5th
William Faulkner’s famous quote “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” is reconfigured in the new presentation by Britain’s Kneehigh Theatre into the refrain, “Not gone, just gone away,” referencing how history is always with us. The show, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, (adapted from the book by Michael Morpurgo) recounts the largely unknown tale of World War II’s “Operation Tiger” via one young girl’s experience. It gets a dazzling production at the Wallis under Emma Rice’s consistently inventive direction.
In 1943, 12-year-old Lily (Katy Owen) lives with her mother and grandfather in the British seaside town of Slapton Sands. Her father is off fighting in the war, and her main companion is her beloved cat, Tips. She takes it in stride when refugee children from London and other large cities are sent to her village, befriending the stubbornly optimistic Barry (Adam Sopp). But when American troops move in to practice beach landings before D-Day (the aforementioned Operation Tiger), causing everyone to have to evacuate inland (and her to lose touch with the missing Tips), the stability of her life becomes more fragile.
Owen excels as the exuberantly bratty Lily, energetically dancing and yelling and demanding that she be noticed and preferably obeyed. Sopp brings an unpretentious dignity to Barry, whose enjoyment of life can’t be crushed by the war; instead he insists that everything is “tickety-boo”. Craig Johnson steals the show as Barry’s mother, in a raucous comic turn that is perhaps best described as Ricky Gervais in a dress. Mike Shepherd is gruffly charming as Lily’s Grandad, and Emma Darlow is affecting as the French refugee and schoolteacher, Madame Bounine.
Director Rice’s staging is marvelous, with one terrific visual or display of seamless ensemble work following another in gorgeous profusion, helped enormously by Rice and Emma Murfitt’s versatile choreography and Pat Moran’s impressive musical direction. Music weaves in and out of the show fluidly, although it isn’t so much a musical as a play with music.
Some of Rice’s most memorable moments include the Nazi shelling of the beach, with projectiles represented by red ribbons, and an imaginary boxing match between Churchill and Hitler. Lez Brotherston’s lovely set, which looks somewhat like a band shell fronting farmland and the coast, works well in representing many locations.
946 succeeds brilliantly as theatre but it also works as history, informing us about the ill-fated Operation Tiger and bringing the past into the present as we ponder the tragedy anew.
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts/Bram Goldsmith Theatre, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills; Tues.–Fri,. 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; through March 5. www.TheWallis.org. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.