Warwick Arts Centre, Saturday 6th February, 2013 and then again at The National Theatre’s Lyttelton Theatre, Monday 26th May, 2014.
‘That was 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. This remains the show that I have most raved about and most struggled to capture.
1927 beautifully and skilfully weave live action and projected animation to create a visually mesmerising, thoroughly enthralling 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 gifted Lillian Henley, this was a treasure trove of talent. Andrade and Henley were also two parts of this three handed, joined by Esme Appleton in a brilliant collective of talent.
The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is set in a ‘sprawling, stinking tenement block’. This bayou is 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; 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, signalling the departure from naturalism and allowing them to be both blank canvasses.
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 stark contrasts between the grim setting and the do-gooder protagonist worked beautifully with the monotoned, ever-tormented narrators and the script was full of quirky, biting comedy, with 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 and powerful 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.
The show also raises a sceptical, judgemental eyebrow 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…
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.
And 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. 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. 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 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.