The Tin Drum is an assault on the senses, a wild, unrelenting ride that jolts its audience out of complacency and dazzles bright.
The Everyman’s autumn season opener, a co-production with West Yorkshire Playhouse and the inimitable Cornish company Kneehigh, is indeed certainly very Everyman, and very Kneehigh.
They are the ones that brought the hugely successful retelling of The Beggar’s Opera, Dead Dog in a Suitcase, to the theatre with an incredible bang back in 2014.
Under the same team of director Mike Shepherd, writer Carl Grose and MD Charles Hazlewood, with The Tin Drum they take off essentially where they left us, with a signature anachronistic, gender-bending, rock opera of no discernible space or time, this time adapting Gunter Grass’s modern classic of the title, and taking it away from its WWII setting to create a surrealist vision of the consequences of racism, war and displacement. With puppets.
It is the tale of a little boy, Oskar, born fully sentient and contemptuous of the world around him, like the original literary Stewie Griffin; in a rage on his third birthday he commits to never growing up and becoming part of an evil he senses is coming – and although his mind continues to age, his body remains toddler size.
Through these eyes we see the inescapable folly of humanity, whether it be everyday thoughtlessness (Oskar’s troubles begin when his mother Agnes forgets to give him a tin drum she has promised) or affairs of the heart – he grows up with effectively two fathers, both tolerating the situation out of love for Agnes. Of course this eventually leads to the darker stuff – the fear of The Other that can only end with division, war and death, a place where kindness is unlikely to survive. And of course, the human race is still at it and of course that is the point – but the production is not mawkish or heavy-handed in making it.
Oskar takes on delusions of a god-like status, his drum and glass-shattering scream affecting the crumbling world around him.
The shock factor of the impact of The Tin Drum will be somewhat lessened for those who fondly remember Dead Dog – the format is similar and even Naomi Dawson’s set design, including a two-part staircase that is split and ragged around the stage, rings bells. And boy, is it noisy – sometimes off-puttingly so.
Expert puppetry from Sarah Wright and the cast turns Oskar’s fixed creepy scowl into so much more. Shepherd’s direction turns a seeming maelstrom of action and sound into a beautifully organised chaos. It is undeniably exciting, loud, bold, and executed by a tight and impressively fearless ensemble.
The Tin Drum is at the Liverpool Everyman until October 14, then on tour.