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946

Ncuti Gatwa and Nandi Bhebhe in Kneehigh's 946. Photo: Steve Tanner Kneehigh's 946. The organisation is one of several mid-scale touring companies to have been given increased funding. Photo: Steve Tanner

With the author’s help, Kneehigh has adapted Michael Morpurgo’s book The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips for its enthralling new production about the “forgotten” tragedy of 946 American servicemen killed during rehearsals for D-Day at Slapton Sands, Devon, in 1944.

Morpurgo has described it as “a joy” to work with Kneehigh on this, and it’s easy to see why. In their hands, a piece of history that is desperate and shameful has been transformed into a profoundly moving celebration of the love and hope Morpurgo writes about in his books.

They achieve this by interweaving Stu Barker’s beautiful score with a wildly anarchic account of one family’s experience of war on the home front when several hundred GIs descend on their village.

Emma Rice has managed to isolate moments of unbearable stillness and sadness in the narrative. Comedy and jitterbugging sometimes switch in a blink to terror and despair.

The entire cast handles its multiple parts with superlative versatility and verve, generating an almost tangible energy in the Asylum tent. Adebayo Bolaji is a powerful musical presence as the Blues Man, and Mike Shepherd doubles up engagingly as Grandma and Grandpa. Katy Owen bestrides a vast emotional range as the 12-year-old searching for her lost cat, Tips.

Lez Brotherston’s set is wondrous, with its aircraft propeller, huge slatted skies, galvanised troughs, and tractor. With Malcolm Rippeth’s dramatic lighting, the effects are atmospheric and intense, heightening the show’s unnerving ability to slip under the wire of our conscious selves.

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Verdict
In this adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s book, Kneehigh remembers the 946 US servicemen killed on a Devon beach during rehearsals for D-Day
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