presented by o-region and The Minack Theatre
Start with a cantankerous, ninety-nine-year-old with a taste for gambling and homebrew; add in an obsessive adopted grandson and finish with an oversized fowl with an iron will and a fondness for romantic movies. What do you get? You get FUP. A hilarious and heart-warming tale of a Grandaddy, his Grandson and an ass-kicking duck who will change their world forever.
This wildly irreverent adaptation of Jim Dodge’s cult classic novel was a joyous smash hit when it was co-produced by Kneehigh in 2016. Featuring live foot-stomping music and quacking puppetry, the original company (including Minack favourites Ben Sutcliffe, Zaid Al-Rikabi and David Mynne) return to recreate FUP: a big hearted, uproarious modern fable set in a wild and wonderful Cornwall a bit like this one.
Joyful and Profound
The Stage ****
With live music, big, earthy performances and heart-melting puppetry, this comedy has a joyous, celebratory fizz and a piercing melancholy
The Times ****
FUP combines whimsy and magic with wit and melancholy to create something truly home-grown and heartwarming which leaves you as every fable or fairytale should: content, reflective and completely enchanted.
Broadway World ****
Directed by Simon Harvey. Designed by Elroy Ashmore. Music composed and played by The People's String Foundation. Lighting Designer: Simon Hutchings. Sound Designer Andy Graham.
Review by Georgia Peay
Two Cornish lads walk onto the stage, big smiles and a hearty ‘Wozzon’ to everyone. They pick up their instruments and start to strum a rousing party tune. Meanwhile two Cornish maids are working the audience with a cheery welcome and a colourful party blower for everyone. And the show hasn’t even started yet. For anyone who has seen Kneehigh productions of the past, this is familiar territory. By the time the play really gets underway, we’re all clutching little rolls of paper, eagerly awaiting the cue to make some noise.
This approach is hardly surprising as FUP began life as a co-production between Kneehigh and o-region in 2016. Adapted and directed by Olivier-award winning Simon Harvey, Artistic Director of o-region and former Associate Director of Kneehigh, this show has all the hallmarks of Kneehigh at its best - accessible, engaging, quirky and unexpectedly profound.
Based on the 1983 novella by American novelist and poet Jim Dodge, FUP explores the relationship between a rough, fiercely independent backwoodsman, Jake Santee and his troubled grandson Tiny, traumatised by the loss of his parents in early childhood. Into their lives comes an oversized duck called FUP, who becomes a channel for their unexpressed and complicated attachment to each other. Onto this framework is built a structure of delicious comic creations and mesmeric storytelling. Simon Harvey’s adaptation relocates the story to the wilds of Bodmin Moor and adds a fabulous musical thread, inspired by bluegrass but adapting perfectly to Cornwall. Written and performed by West Country duo Ben Sutcliffe & Zaid Al-Rikabi, the music provides an uplifting heartbeat to the production and a touchstone for its emotional core.
Kneehigh founder member, David Mynne, gives a towering performance as the cantankerous centenarian Jake, whose longevity is attributed to his insides being pickled by ‘Ol’ Death Whisper’ – his home-distilled whisky. He is matched by Calvin Dean as Tiny, the grandson whose childhood trauma drives him to obsessive fence-building in a desperate search to keep those he loves safe. Dean also shines in two comic cameos as Tiny’s father, the would-be top-gun American pilot, Sonic Jonny, and the hilariously inquisitive postman, Cliff. Tiny’s mother, Gabrielle, is played by Chloe Endean, who also doubles as a very broad-minded doctor/vet, an equally censorious social worker and a repressed but rapacious spouse.
But the characters most people will inevitably remember are the puppets, especially the child Tiny and, of course, FUP herself, designed by Lyndie Wright. The subtlety of the movement created by the talent of hugely experienced puppeteer Rachel Leonard, not to mention her remarkable range of expressive quacking, lift the production into another league. So too, the design by Elroy Ashmore, Jake’s tumbledown house nestling perfectly into the shape of the Minack, as if it had always been there.
The comedy and charm of the story draws us in, but underlying it is a profound question about how to live. For all his reclusive existence, Jake believes in living in the present and not being tied down by past mistakes or held back from the future by fear, his battles with love, loss and hope neatly encapsulated in his frequently repeated mantra, “Get on with the getting!”
This is a production that well deserves a revival and we can only hope this is not the last time FUP will take to the air.
FUP continues at the Minack until 5 October. Tickets are available from minack.com 01736 810181.