With only a handful of Kneehigh shows left at Warwick Arts Centre before they take 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips on the rest of the tour, we spoke to actress Emma Darlow. Playing the part of Madame Bounine in this high-energy show, Emma gives us an insight into the show and the incredible story that inspired Michael Morpurgo.
946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips is an exuberant production with a serious side. The play must have particularly strong resonance in today’s political and social climate. Have current affairs informed your approach to the production?
Current affairs have certainly highlighted the resonance of a production that deals with conflict, evacuation, refugees, displacement and the common humanity that can transform and assuage such difficult experiences.
What is it like performing with puppets?
I do not interact with the puppets on stage in my roles, but they are a joy to watch and admire with from afar- they are so characterful and engaging.
How do you get the balance right between humour and fun and the more serious themes in the performance?
That balance has been expertly tempered by Michael Morpurgo and Emma Rice in the writing of the piece and Emma in its direction- so as a performer my job is simply to fill each nuance and change of tone with as much truth and commitment as possible. The piece is episodic in nature and as such can turn from humour to pathos on a hairpin; that is its beauty, as laughter and tears are never far from each other.
Without giving too much away…the story is based on little-known historic events – had you heard the tale before?
I had not heard the tale of Slapton Sands until reading this script and that is why I believe so fervently in the importance of this piece- it tells a story of an event that should be part of our common history- not news to me and most of my friends seventy-odd years down the line. It is it of utmost value to keep the memory of what happened alive and when told with the care, detail and love present in this show one can hope that something life-affirming emerges from it.
946 is a really high-energy show. How do you maintain your energy levels whilst on tour? Is there a lot of physical preparation involved?
It is incredibly high energy, which is both exhausting and uplifting; I love the fact that it is non-stop. I find the energy of the piece infectious and while you might be tired before or after a show, once it begins it takes you with it.
I have fallen in love with the vocal warm up taught to us by Martin McKellen while we were at the Globe, so I always do that in our dressing room pre-show and I warm up on the violin every evening. We also do games, songs and physical and vocal warm ups together as a company on stage before each performance. It is lovely to have this time dedicated to reconnecting as a group.
Some of the cast have multiple roles to juggle – what is it like preparing for two roles?
My secondary role as one of the sisters is a cameo in a pastiche of a family dynamic, so as such just needed quick, strong choices to serve the story. Preparing for Madame Bounine took more time, as she has a real journey in the play. It was interesting to find the many facets of her in rehearsal- her steely strictness and her gentler, more vulnerable side. The beauty of the writing in 946 is that it feels like a gift to me as an actress- the many shifts and changes in gear are adeptly written and still afford one the freedom to explore different ways of playing every night.