Like War Horse, this stage adaptation of another Michael Morpurgo novel features a farmyard of animals represented by actors manipulating puppets. It also revolves around a child -- in this case a girl rather than a boy -- undergoing a journey to recover a lost pet, in this case a cat instead of a horse that had been seconded to the war effort.
And although sandbag trenches also feature heavily, we're in the Second World War here, not the first. But if this production has a more low-tech, smaller scale approach to its subject (complete with a row of bath tubs in which model ships recreate a sea battle), it's equally big hearted about the effects of the war on a rural English child, and that generosity of spirit infects the entire show.
First produced at Kneehigh's Asylum Theatre in Cornwall last summer, it now comes to the Globe as part of director Emma Rice's first season at the helm there; it may be an easy gain for her to bring an already established production to the theatre, but it's also great that she's been able to give it a London home.
Of course it breaks with the core Shakespearean repertoire at this house, and might be a genre that she's more directly comfortable with. But it is also a clever way of introducing Globe audiences to her working methods, which are ravishingly exemplified by the generosity and warmth of storytelling on display here, in her co-adaptation with Michael Morpurgo of the latter's 2005 novel.
It also targets a specific family audience, as it tells a moving story, based on fact, about a Devon community that finds itself taking in evacuees from London -- and then becoming evacuated themselves when the American military use the coastline around Slapton Sands to practice for the D-day landings.
Morpurgo and Rice's play, part documentary, part dramatisation, tells this story with a free-form musicality - complete with an onstage band - and muscularity. As ever at the Globe, there's a direct connection between the stage and the enthusiastic audience hearing the story. A wonderful cast includes stand-out contributions from adult actress Katy Owen as the young Lily, with Kneehigh artistic director Mike Shepherd making a notable double pairing as her grandfather in the past and grandmother in the present.
What the Press Said...
"I'm not sure that they've yet achieved the ideal balance between inspiring sentiment and inspired silliness and the proceedings feel a bit padded-out but the sheer verve of the ensemble should delight punters of all ages, from about 9 upwards."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"The material itself may resonate more deeply in Kneehigh’s Cornish base, but on London’s Bankside it’s simply a romp with occasional, dutiful sombre faces, and which is soon over, to no clear point."
Ian Shuttleworth for The Financial Times
"It’s played a little too much for laughs and the storytelling tends to the meandering, but what wins us round each time is the fact that the piece is brimful of heart. There’s sadness – the number in the title is sombrely explained."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press