Q&A with Mike Shepherd, about The Tin Drum and more

Mike Shepherd

Mike Shepherd

For those who are unfamiliar with the story can you tell us in simple terms what Tin Drum is all about?
Tin Drum is the story of Oskar-the boy who will never grow. Whilst still in the womb he knows “everything”.   He is born into a troubling world and ,in protest, decides to never grow. On his third birthday he is given a tin drum which he uses to wake the world up, to shake it up to save it from itself.
We have honoured Gunther Grass’s epic novel but created a world which is fiercely contemporary whilst echoing the past. Carl Grose’s vivid text and Charles Hazlewood’s mind warping score have created a show which feels vital and important as well as very entertaining

To whom do you think this production will appeal – and what do you hope the audience gets out of it.
Our Tin Drum has elements of storytelling, it’s often a new opera, sometimes a play, always musical, sometimes a dance piece and never boring.
I like to think it will appeal to those with a sense of adventure. We’ve definitely taken risks and broken rules.  It won’t appeal to the deeply conservative or the far right!
Kneehigh are known for their theatre with music using a variety of acoustic instruments with Tin Drum Charles Hazlewood’s brilliant orchestration uses almost entirely analogue synthesisers- I bet there are lots of people in Shoreditch who’d be into that !
It feels like we’ve created a loud but delicate poem for the world. What do I hope the audience get out of it ? Surely that’s up to them.
I would hope that they’re entertained and perhaps,like Oskar, encouraged to bang the drum, to knock on the doors of those bastions of greed driven power…to let them know we’re here..to let them know we care.

Do you see it as a tale relevant to our times?
As we were making Tin Drum Cornwall voted UKIP  and then Brexit. Kneehigh have always looked to do more than just a show and recently have been actively involved with refugees and with all those who have lost their homes and been inexcusably dehumanised. We spent time in the Calais Jungle and the backstreets of Bogota and will continue to reach out as almost everyone closes their borders. Without tub thumping or preaching, Tin Drum reflects all of this whilst also offering a sliver of hope for humanity!

Do you still rehearse in clifftop barns in Cornwall?
We try to seed all of our work and schedule rehearsals at our barns.
They are wild, elemental and somehow fundamental-important qualities for the work.
The barns are ours, they’re special….I’m not telling you where they are !
We also rehearsed and opened Tin Drum in Liverpool Everyman. It’s a wonderful theatre not just because of the space and facilities but because of the staff..They all seem to be interested and excited by the work . The marvellous Gemma Bodinetz, Deborah Aydon and Nick Bagnall (directors of the organisation) are genuinely and enthusiastically supportive. To find people you”chime”with is vital to the creative process.
I also find the people of Liverpool more politically informed and energised than in Cornwall and that feels important nowadays

You must have been thrilled with the reaction to Dead Dog in a Suitcase. Did it surprise you?
As well as touring the UK Dead Dog in a Suitcase has played successfully in New Zealand, Bogota and Seoul, it should definitely play more places in the future.  Am I thrilled by it’s success?…yes. Am I surprised?…no- it’s a thrilling show

Your acclaimed production, Dead Dog in a Suitcase was a big success at Shoreditch Town Hall in 2015, how does it feel to return this venue and why is it an exciting venue to perform in?   
I think there’s an increasing hunger from audiences for events happening in unconventional spaces. Shoreditch Town Hall has atmosphere and creates a sense of event and excitement.
Kneehigh have always looked to play “non theatre”spaces, Shoreditch gives both challenges and opportunities which then inform the show.  I always hanker to get away from the sedateness of the stalls and the proscenium, I prefer the energy of a mosh pit!
Dead Dog in a Suitcase seemed more dangerous there, more explosive – which added to the impact of the story.

 Finally – what next?
I direct a family show -The Dancing Frog. Carl Grose directs a Kneehigh company of improvisers and musicians in a pop up show based on a combination of the Ubu plays and karaoke (yet to be titled), Associate Director Keziah Serreau directs a new show about Marie Curie -“Love and Fallout” Associate Director Simon Harvey brings back “Fup” the story of a duck and a very old man. “Brief Encounter” returns to the West End and “Flying Lovers” plays in Wilton’s Music Hall before touring venues. In UK and America- both directed by the one and only Emma Rice

Kneehigh, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse and West Yorkshire Playhouse presents


Based on the novel by Gunter Grass

Written by Carl Grose

Composer and Music Direction by Charles Hazlewood

Directed by Mike Shepherd – Designed by Naomi Dawson with lighting by Malcolm Rippeth and sound by Ian Davies.

Choreography by Etta Murfitt and Puppet direction by Sarah Wright

Wednesday 6 to Saturday 23 December 2017 at Shoreditch Town Hall