It seems like an age since I last saw what was undoubtedly my favourite show of 2016. Obviously the initial attraction had been the opportunity to see Adam onstage again, but after seeing over half of the Globe performances and following it around the UK on tour an equal number of times, I’d become rather attached to the whole group of them. Lucky that I’d planned a trip to New York since August then!
The US leg of the tour previously took in Berkeley and LA – had they been the only two stops I would have resigned myself to not seeing it again, but New York seemed just too good a chance to miss… There aren’t many other (or any other) people or shows that I would make this journey for, despite being something of a nervous flyer and not exactly made of money. So you can tell from that exactly what 946 means to me.
What is remarkable about this production is its constant evolution. Throughout previews at the Globe and at each stop on its entire tour it has been tweaked and streamlined, all the while maintaining its heart and soul. And having missed two venues (and fairly lengthy runs at both) it was a significantly different show that I was confronted with as I took my front row seat at St Ann’s Warehouse for the first time.
From small changes such as who “the greatest” is (understandably changed for an American audience from Formula 1 to tennis, though a less natural choice for Boowie’s grandad) to bigger statements like the cutting of an entire scene, and a shorter curtain call, it did feel very much like a fresh new show that I was watching. As much as I missed the scene that was removed (Lily’s “deep lunge”), I can see how a first-time viewer might wonder what it added to the whole piece. When someone like Emma Rice comes along it really reminds me why I love theatre: she’s prepared to try and improve a show to make it feel right, rather than stick rigidly to a formula that has previously been successful and widely lauded. It also more than justifies repeat visits, as you never know what you’ll be faced with next…
Another big alteration was in the lineup of actors this time round: Kneehigh regular Craig Johnson had taken over from Ewan Wardrop at LA. 2016 was a bit of a Ewan year for me, with 946 and Dream, and I honestly couldn’t imagine his range of guises (particularly Mrs Turner) being played by anyone else. But I’m so thrilled to say that Craig absolutely blew me away as every single character! The ridiculous facial hair as Lord Something-or-Other, his turn as a very gossipy Mrs Turner – and the replacement of Nigel with Margaret in the schoolroom. Obviously on the Friday I was quite overwhelmed with the emotion of my journey, and seeing the show again, so I absolutely didn’t see where this name change was going. “Kill ‘im!” – “No, Margaret Thatcher! We are not going to kill him.” It got just the same response as the UK version (Nigel Farage), with the added bonus of seeing Craig as a schoolgirl.
I commented previously how I felt the focus of the tour production seemed to be more on the idea of displacement, as well as heightening the budding relationship between Lily and Barry, but this time it seemed like the emphasis was slightly more on loss. The refrain of “let him go” is now dotted across the show, really highlighting what the characters are experiencing (or about to experience) at certain moments. As I wrote before, this is one of the most pertinent strands of the show to me – so it obviously made it a more emotional experience, but ultimately that’s more rewarding.
Aside from all the changes though, it still felt well and truly like my show. The same feelings of sheer joy are inspired, as are the emotional hits. It may be essentially a family show, but it doesn’t mean any audience member is treated like a child – in fact, I think this is one of the most emotionally engaging shows of this type that I’ve ever seen. Even knowing exactly what will happen isn’t enough to stop me from bawling at Ncuti and Nandi towards the latter stages; it’s the live, raw performance that gets you in the end.
I couldn’t not mention my joy at getting to see Katy as Lily again. She was the very last to know I was in the audience that first night, and I’m quite proud to know that it came as a bit of a shock to her! I even got to wipe Lily’s stick one last time – it’s a ridiculous thing to be happy about, but I do love a bit of audience engagement every now and then.
And, of course, the icing on the cake was a final few shows seeing Adam as a 12-year-old schoolboy. From the very first preview in August last year I’ve just been incredibly chuffed for him to have had a lead role (and in such a good show), and his performances have blown me away every time.
As I flew away (I really did end up leaving on a jet plane) I was inconsolable at the thought of never being able to experience this wonderful show ever again, as it has been a very significant chapter in my life. Though as Tristan & Yseult is back again this year, I may just keep a couple of fingers crossed that Tips might show up one more time in the future…
946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips runs at St Ann’s Warehouse until 9 April 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office. $20 Rush tickets can also be unlocked via the TodayTix app. You can donate to Kneehigh’s ‘Lucky Button’ charities at arcrelief.org, goodchance.org.uk and helprefugees.org.uk.