The Kneebone Cadillac by Wildworks review: Visit Cornwall's 'badlands' for a banger of a night out

Hannah Stephens emerges from the flames at United Downs in Wildworks' The Kneebone Cadillac
-Credit: (Image: Steve Tanner)

For all those missing the peculiar Cornish charms of Kneehigh Theatre, whose closure sent shockwaves through the arts world three years ago, fear not. Their rambunctious spirit of anarchy, mayhem and downright silliness is alive and well this week thanks to their sort-of sister company, Wildworks.

In a first for the company, which has a history of staging huge spectaculars in unusual locations (mines, dockyards, stately homes, whole towns), Wildworks has taken over a corner of United Downs Raceway, the stock car racing circuit which has been going for 55 years and, after battling threatened closure, recently had its lease extended by Cornwall Council.

There was only ever one location for The Kneebone Cadillac, a profane comedy by Truro's Carl Grose, which was developed within Kneehigh and was first broadcast as a play on Radio 4 in 2011. It has always been Carl's dream to stage the play where it's based, at United Downs, and thanks to the track's boss, Crispin Rosevear, it has become a reality.

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In a nutshell, it's the story of the Kneebone siblings Slick, Dwight and Maddy, who have a mighty fall-out when their scrapyard-owning dad Jed shocks everyone by leaving his cherished 1958 Cadillac Eldorado to his only daughter. Rather than cash in the prized but broken-down auto - which may or may not have once belonged to Elvis Presley - feisty Maddy is determined to get it back on the road and take on all-comers in the United Downs Boneshaker stock car race in what is described as Cornwall's "badlands".

It all gets a bit chaotic after that - ghosts, Mancunian drug lords, talking stones, Clint Eastwood and some good old twangy rock 'n' roll all play their part, as does the United Downs race track itself (with some nice lines based on reality when failed actual plans for a geothermal rum distillery on the site are given short shrift).

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Hannah Stephens, Katy Owen and Ben Dyson at the Kneebone scrapyard in Wildworks' latest production
Hannah Stephens, Katy Owen and Ben Dyson at the Kneebone scrapyard in Wildworks' latest production -Credit:Steve Tanner

It's got all the ingredients which made us love Kneehigh - the grimy underbelly of Cornwall where we will on the underdog, a nice bit of social commentary, laugh-out-loud comedy and infectious song.

There are familiar faces too - Giles King, the grandaddy of Kernow thespians, playing both the despised dead patriarch and mechanic Hooper Munro, Ben Dyson, brilliantly stupid as Slick Kneebone and Texan millionaire Duke Longhorne, and Hannah Stephens, a joy as ever as heroine Maddy.

Katy Owen, the Welsh pocket dynamo who provided so much of the physical comedy in latter-years Kneehigh shows, does it again as Phyllis Vanloo, a legend of the racing circuit who had to be rebuilt following a cataclysmic crash. Her Tina Turner on amphetamines turn as the young Phyllis, alongside the shaking, broken aged Phyllis, are both wonders to behold.

Katy Owen as the young Phyllis Vanloo, with musicians Hannah McPake and Alex Heane, in The Kneebone Cadillac
Katy Owen as the young Phyllis Vanloo, with musicians Hannah McPake and Alex Heane, in The Kneebone Cadillac -Credit:Steve Tanner

Throw in Josh Penrose as hopeless younger sibling Dwight and Hannah McPake as various characters including the singing dead Kneebone mother (alongside musician Alex Heane) and it's another winning cast.

Ingeniously designed, this great little show - directed by another superstar of Cornish theatre, Kyla Goodey - is a reminder of all those grassroots productions Kneehigh used to produce alongside their major West End and touring shows, where you'd wet yourself with laughter in a village hall or church pew.

The Kneebone Cadillac is a very funny, sweary reminder that nowhere else in the world does theatre like Cornwall. Zoom on over to United Downs, but put your foot down because you only have until Sunday, July 14 to see it and many of the shows are sold out. Head here for more details and to book.