Friday 26 September 2014

Theatre Love - Kneehigh Theatre Company (and a Dead Dog)

I think I might have mentioned this once or twice before but my absolute favourite theatre company are a Cornish collective called Kneehigh. They were founded in 1980 by a local schoolteacher called Mike Shepherd and started off hosting theatre workshops before quickly moving on to bigger productions and shows, performed all over the place: clifftops, barns, village halls, quarries as well as the more traditional theatres.

Sunset over the Kneehigh Asylum

Kneehigh Theatre Asylum Dead Dog in a Suitcase

I first saw them back in 1996 at the Merlin Theatre in Frome and was amazed by the sheer talent and magic of that performance. This was back in the days pre-internet and pre-Google so you couldn’t just search online for their next show. A couple of years later I found out that my favourite teacher (my GCSE Drama teacher) was also a fan and I kept an eye out for Kneehigh's name wherever I went. Not long after I started university in 2001 they played at my local theatre in Preston with their dangerously seductive show, The Red Shoes - which I ended up seeing 9 times with the music stuck in my head for months afterwards.

Kneehigh Asylum Posters

Kneehigh Asylum Posters

I said back in 1996 and I still say now, I’m sure they must put some kind of drug in their stage smoke, the sort of drug that makes you think ‘I have to see this again’. I’ve seen 22 of their shows now, most of them more than once and the amount of times I've been to see them totals 63 (yup, I am that sad that I keep a list). I can't pinpoint exactly what it is about the company - the music makes you want to tap your toes, the attention to detail with the sets and characters makes you really get into the stories and each of their shows just has such an air of playfulness and childishness that really appeals to everyone.

Kneehigh Asylum Punch and Judy

They had a burgeoning reputation across the UK back in the late 90s anyway but it was their show Tristan and Yseult that launched them into the heady heights of theatre-elite. I was one of the lucky ones who was there the first night of the show back in June 2003 at Restormel Castle in Cornwall and again at the first night of their run at the National in April 2005. Both times I’m pretty certain the whole audience was blown away by what they’d just seen and from then on, hundreds and thousands of people have become Kneehigh fans. I’m so pleased that so many people are discovering them and yup, there is a small amount of smugness to being able to say I’ve been a fan for 18 years.
Kneehigh Asylum Billboard

Their latest show, ‘Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs)’ is based on the 1728 play, The Beggars Opera – a tale of dark and dastardly deeds in the underworld. It’s a bit of a complicated storyline but Wikipedia manages to sum it up if you fancy a look. Kneehigh takes the basic plotline and turns it into a twisty turny saga of politicians, plotting, contract killers and strip clubs – very much based in modern day society and with a lot of references to what we all should and shouldn’t be doing. The only problem with it is that the majority of the audience probably already share the same views as Kneehigh, hence why they’re there watching one of their shows. Preaching to the proverbial converted!

Kneehigh Asylum

Kneehigh Asylum Dead Dog in a Suitcase

All the action takes place inside Kneehigh's Asylum (this year located at the stunning Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall) - a beautiful performance space, reminiscent of the Eden Project's biomes. It's a magical place inside and out with twinkling fairy lights, homemade cake, steaming hot chocolate and all sorts of fun and games to be had before, after and during the interval of the show.

Kneehigh AsylumKneehigh Asylum

Kneehigh Asylum

Dead Dog in a Suitcase is on at the Asylum until this Sunday (and if I hadn't fractured my ankle, this post would've been up last week) but after that, it moves to the Bristol Old Vic, without the movable feast and wonderful tent structure but still with just as much fun and excitement.

Obviously I'm biased but I'd definitely recommend a trip to see Kneehigh anytime, if you can't get to their show in Cornwall or Bristol, keep an eye out for their name around the country - and if you're even vaguely interested in theatre, then I promise you, you won't be disappointed!


  1. 63 times?! You really are a mega-fan! x

  2. Sounds fantastic! To be honest, you had me at cake and hot chocolate :p xxx


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