Warwick Arts Centre, Saturday 6th February, 2013 and then again at The National Theatre’s Lyttelton Theatre, Monday 26th May, 2014.
‘That was AMAZING- everything was so perfectly done, wasn’t it just amazing?’ was, I believe, my declaration as I left the theatre after seeing this masterpiece from 1927. I realise that ‘amazing’ is rather an inept term these days but I was using it with absolutely no hyperbole. It remains the show that I have most raved about and most struggled to capture. I raved so much so that I ended up with tickets to see it again when it popped up in London.
1927 beautifully and skilfully weave live action and projected animation to create a visually mesmerising, thoroughly enthralling modern theatrical style. I had seen animation used on a far lesser scale in a few productions previously, but I had never seen anything like this before. Written and directed by Suzanne Andrade with film, animation and design by Paul Barritt, along with live music from the musically gifted Lillian Henley, this was a treasure trove of talent. Andrade and Henley were also two of the only three actors carrying this production on stage- joined by Esme Appleton- and this beautiful concoction of talents made The Animals and Children Took to the Streets a glowing success.
The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is set in a ‘sprawling, stinking tenement block’ in the bayou, a forsaken-by-all chasm in which resentment and social injustice are boiling up amidst cockroach infestations and infinitely conspicuous residents with various barely-masked vices. Into this grime and discontent (where unruly, unreachable youngsters swarm the streets en masse, causing chaos wherever their swarm settles) Agnes Eaves and her daughter arrive to try to ‘save’ the residents in the unsalvageable squalor…and thus the narrative descends into comical and cruel chaos.
Both the overall visual and the opening of the piece were instantly striking; the three flats featured projections of animated apartment buildings which were positively infested with scuttling ‘things’… The characters appeared from behind curtains in various cut-outs, each of them wearing the classic recognisable white face clown make-up, allowing them to be both blank canvasses and clearly non-naturalistic. The production begins with a very catchy yet dark little ditty, accompanied by live piano and to this, the first of the bayou’s cynical, deeply bitter tenants adds a monologue detailing the gritty situation with a voice full of knowing resignation and plosive force. The monologues from various characters were fantastic and often provided great comedy- one memorable example being a woman singing a judgemental commentary on her loner neighbour who can be seen writing in his journal in an opposite window. As her song ends and the soul- destroyed voice of said loner neighbour begins his commentary, he bemoans something along the lines of ‘I wonder if my neighbour knows that I can hear her singing about me…’ while he scribbles his narrative down with his labelled ‘pen’ and ‘journal’.
The somewhat grim setting and ill-fated premise concerning the do-gooder protagonist worked beautifully with the monotoned, ever-tormented narrators and the script was full of quirky, biting comedy; each brilliant element perfectly complimented by the impressive visuals of the cast interacting with animations. Despite being a visual feast with plenty of wit, this show provided a rather pointed parable and social commentary, highlighting the malignant injustices and how deeply they are felt by the young and impressionable; those who see what they want, what others have, and cannot fathom the meaning of their apparent inferiority. It also raises a sceptical, judgemental eye-brow at the concerning culture of drugging children who prove ‘challenging’; a submissive, zombie child is more desirable than chaos and unrest of course. The audience were welcomed via charming little packages of ‘Granny’s Gumdrops’ in nostalgic, striped candy bags- an exciting freebie at any age… Only during the show however, do we realise the sinister use of those sugary treats that we guzzled so readily…
As the production was clearly non-naturalistic, the animations were likewise not designed to be realistic extensions of the on-stage counterparts; the actors were interacting with roughly sketched and filled figures, and this made for very interesting visuals. Along with the settings and characters, the animations included captions and quirky illustrations of the narrative as it ran; hands with pointing fingers encircling poor Agnes in a moment of accusation, or a tirade of question marks as she questions which way next in her moment of crisis. Mesmerising stuff. If that wasn’t enough, remember that the aforementioned winning features were accompanied by live, jaunty music which gave the piece a silent movie feel, something Chaplin himself might have bounded into at any moment. However, although the various styles within the production were recognisable, the wild and wonderful combinations made the piece as a whole seem incredibly original and modern- the overall impact was not only slick, perfectly timed and creative, it was truly a sublime theatrical experience.
I can’t praise this piece highly enough and I couldn’t name a single flaw if I tried. Despite the time-lapse, this production remains crystal-clear in my memory. There are links to mini clips below- do yourself a favour and click on them for a glimpse of the magic. Do you want to see theatre which makes you resent the need to blink? Theatre that genuinely demonstrates unrivalled complex technical perfection in style and execution? Theatre which you are so stunned by, you’re hoping it’ll turn into a lock-in? Then keep an eye on 1927 and prepare to be amazed by what originality, style and unbridled imagination can do. I’m still convincing myself that there will be another opportunity to see the sublime perfection of this production again!