Read more on The Tin Drum – Interview with Les Bubb – Bristol 247 from the Kneehigh Cookbook archive.
During November at Bristol Old Vic, the brilliant Kneehigh will recast Günter Grass’ surreal post-war masterpiece The Tin Drum, an extraordinary story of love, war and fizz powder, as a startling musical satire: part Baroque opera, part psychedelic white-out, part epic poem.
Written by Carl Grose, composed by Charles Hazlewood and directed by Mike Shepherd the team that brought you the internationally acclaimed Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), The Tin Drum is a folktale for troubled times: one political, profane and profound.
Here are some thoughts from Bristol-based mime artist Les Bubb, who plays Alfred in the production.
So, how did you get involved with The Tin Drum?
The director, Kneehigh’s Mike Shepherd, knew me from decades ago working in Europe as a physical entertainer/clown/mime. I think we met in 1988 when I was performing at a Dutch street theatre festival. I think we were the only Brits there that year. When it came to The Tin Drum, Mike actually called me and made the provisional offer when I was driving my family to an Adele concert in Wembley (great show, BTW).
What, if anything, was your knowledge of the work before starting rehearsals?
I had vague memories of the 1979 German film of the book, which I saw as a teenager. Mike told me, though, that it wouldn’t be necessary to read the book or view the film, as it would be put through the Kneehigh mill or words to that effect. I remembered some quite gross images from it, but the storyline was fascinating and quite alien to the teenage me. I saw it again recently and even tried my character’s moustache, but not for long.
Why do you think The Tin Drum will make such great theatre?
I think Mike’s process of combining Carl Grose’s script with Charles Hazelwood’s music makes the magic. The sum of the parts becomes greater than the whole. The carefully chosen mixture of gifted young actors, singers and puppeteers means that the whole thing comes to life in a beautiful and brutal way. And I’m in it too.
Tell us about your character.
My character, Alfred, is an ordinary, decent, but oafish family man with a passion for cooking and order. This wish to improve his country’s situation leads him to be drawn to the enigmatic new right-wing leaders’ campaign to change things for the better. A recipe for disaster?
Does it feel like a story with a special relevance to our time?
During his childhood in 1930s Germany, the author Günter Grass saw first-hand how ordinary families become enthralled by a charismatic leader promising change and improvement to their quality of life. Adolf Hitler led his country to its destruction I do not know what Grass’ own personal experiences were, but they percolated through him until the book’s release in 1959. The message is no less relevant today, as we see the rise of the Right in Europe and other nations across the Western world. Life’s lessons are repeated in the search for humanitarian balance over inequality.
The message is no less relevant today, as we see the rise of the Right in Europe and other nations across the Western world. Life’s lessons are repeated in the search for humanitarian balance over inequality.
How would you describe the Kneehigh way, and does it fit with your own way of doing things?
Doing one show with Kneehigh isn’t enough for me to sum up their way: but I think theirs is an amazingly egalitarian, non-pompous type of theatre for all people, whether they are regular theatregoers or not. This ties in with my own view that theatre can be for everyone.
This sounds like I am a poker, and maybe I am: but whether for informative or entertaining purposes, it can be a moving and memorable way to move society to improve itself through awareness of the bigger picture and how we are all connected.
How did you come to be a mime performer?
I came into mime accidentally, as one often does. As a child I liked to show off and say look at me isn’t this amazing/clever/stupid/funny?
After doing children’s theatre, youth theatre, and theatre training in Cardiff, London and Paris, I found myself trying to get an Equity card. Doing mime cabaret was a novel approach to it. I’d often find myself on the early bills of alternative comedy with fellow weirdos like Lee Evans.
I enjoyed street performing because it is a classless form of entertainment for folk of all ages and nationalities. Being without words, I could perform mime anywhere where the police or security did not stop me and earn a living making people happier. These days, happier isn’t always enough and with The Tin Drum I hope it becomes another powerful catalyst for awareness and social change.