sat 04/04/2020

The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, 1927, Battersea Arts Centre | reviews, news & interviews

The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, 1927, Battersea Arts Centre

The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, 1927, Battersea Arts Centre

A multimedia show as delicious as it is poisonous

Welcome to the stinking, sprawling Bayou Mansions – the thorn in a prosperous city’s side, the “short-and-curly hair in the mouthful of sponge cake”. So cramped there isn’t even room to swing a rat (and there are plenty), so corrosive that everything here starts life as a bad smell. Forget the enchanted worlds of fable and fairy tale, this is a dystopian childhood fantasy masterminded by the select team of Kurt Weill, Kafka and the Wicked Witch from Snow White. As delicious as it is delicately malevolent, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is a strychnine-laced gumdrop of a show, and slips down all too sweetly.

It’s been three years since British company 1927 made their Edinburgh debut with Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, an ingenious multimedia show of Gothic vignettes. Awards, international tours and critical adulation have followed, and eventually a commission for a second show. Moving away from miniature, this latest offering (written and directed by Suzanne Andrade) extends the narrative range of the company’s signature combination of Modernist animation, Weimar-style cabaret and silent-movie action, in order to tell the tale of idealistic young Agnes Eaves and her brief sojurn at the Bayou Mansions.

The Bayou, “wriggling with perverts” and inhabited by a colourful crowd of curtain-twitchers and cockroaches (not to forget Wayne The Racist and his eight racist offspring), is dominated by the gangs of children that run riot through corridors and streets at night. Convinced that all these children need is “love, encouragement and collage”, enter Agnes Eaves (Esme Appleton, pictured below) and her small (animated) daughter Evie, determined to make a difference. Up in his panoptic tower, however, the City Mayor has an altogether more sinister solution to the problem, one involving black nocturnal ice-cream vans, shadow nurses and Granny’s Gumdrops.

Animals-and-Children-2-608x460With overtones of Brecht and Meyerhold, glances toward Metropolis and The City of Lost Children, the layering of allusion is wittily woven into the fabric of the show. The result – self-aware but never smug – is a joy, from the Constructivist newspaper images that tell of the depredations of Zelda (little book of Marxist quotations in her pocket) and her gang of child-pirates, to the white-face clowning of Suzanne Andrade and her team.

Paul Barritt’s animation provides a wriggling, crawling canvas for the action of Redherring Street and the Bayou. All muted colours and flattened perspective, its evocative simplicity is set off by the company’s physical interaction. Falling sequences, chases, dreams all manifest themselves in striking and minutely synchronised visuals, all underpinned by a kitsch humour that delights in sight-gags and the macabre, rarely drawing back from the edge of even the blackest joke or rhyme.

The-Animals-and-the-ChildrenOne of the show’s most memorable creations is the Bayou’s Tim Burton-esque caretaker. “I hid in the broom cupboard. Then I ate a Kit Kat. On the whole a pretty good day.” Played by Andrade in white-face and voiced solely by inner monologue (in the magnificently baleful tones of Jamie Adams), his desperate desire to get out of the Bayou is equalled only by his silent adoration of Agnes Eaves, prompting a dynamic rescue-mission when little Evie is kidnapped in an ominous black ice-cream van.

1927_cThe whole show is underscored by the live piano-playing and vocals of Lilian Henley, her music a combination of silent-movie accompaniment and backbiting cabaret songs. The rhythms are pervasive, mirroring the relentless chant of Redherring Street’s only mantra – “Born in the Bayou, die in the Bayou” – and help to keep the show constantly on the move, providing continuity between the inevitably fragmented scenes.

Conceived and written with the same spare malevolence as a Roald Dahl short story, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is an extraordinary theatrical creation. Intelligence and grotesque wit ooze through every “suspiciously stained” surface, animating its meticulously orchestrated storytelling as vividly as any of Barritt’s illustrations. With a future collaboration planned for a full-scale opera project at the Berlin Opera House, it looks like 1927’s fortunes are on the rise. I can only hope that the ominous little sentence on the programme, “Supported by Arts Council England”, continues to hold good even in our recession-bound Big Society, in which “... art is spelled with a capital R”.

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