The Tin Drum, Shoreditch Town Hall

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Oskar is a child of myth and legend. Or maybe he’s just bad-tempered and noisy. Either way, he comes into a fictional world of darkening shadows that’s clearly pre-WWII Europe. Born with a fully adult brain, he looks down on most people around him but has simple, childish request – that his mother buys him a tin drum.

With his drum, the unusual boy (played by a pale, glowering puppet) may or may not be some sort a messiah figure that will save his country from the Black Witch and her army. The script makes a big to-do about this at the beginning of the show, so much so that a large portion of Act I is the origin story of Oskar’s immediate family. Whilst the tale of his mother’s conception during a chance encounter between his grandmother and a runaway arsonist is funny and unconventional, it isn’t quite the stuff that supports a hero saving the world. The rest of Act I is composed of similar anecdotal mini-stories only tenuously linked to the initially proposed idea.

But things get much more interesting when they shift from the personal to the political. As the Black Witch’s power grows in the second half, the boy, now in his teens, who has the ability to cause mayhem with his glass-shattering scream and drumming that mesmerises the masses is primed to act. It’s only a shame that Oskar’s story and the changing political climate don’t intertwine enough to justify his explosive reaction.

The loose narrative is epic and sprawling, but with plot lines that give each other the vaguest of nods. That said, it’s a wonderful sensory experience. The chaotic, wartime story of an unconventional family is saturated with colour, music and excellent puppetry, which is a needed distraction from the weedy, winding narrative. It doesn’t need to be as long as it is, but The Tin Drum is a lot of fun and a dark, prescient reminder that fascism lurks around the corner of Christmas this year.

The Tin Drum runs through 23 December.

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