Roots: The Bad, the Worse & the Awful – Obscure Folklore for the ‘Brave’ Child

Saturday 21st December 2019 at HOME, Manchester.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Created by the always wonderful and ever original 1927 Productions, Roots delves into obscure folklore, delivering an array of weird, warped and decidedly macabre tales for ‘brave’ little children. With their enchanting combination of live music, live action and animation, 1927 will open your eyes to entertainment for children which is worlds away from innocent doe-eyes and tame royals with rosy cheeks. There’s a dark charm to each tale told and the production whole-heartedly embraces the foreboding outskirts of the kingdom of fairytales, offering minimal respite from brooding tales of misadventure and wicked characters of one kind or another.

The stories told are clever. They’re anything but ordinary and they’re definitely entertaining. We meet a very greedy cat, an outrageously testing husband, a mean old ogre, a shocking couple of parents, an insufferable lodger, a completely unremarkable lady, a couple bickering over magical powers and…two selfish little children desperate to fend for themselves and themselves alone. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. The tales are fleeting, making the production a pacy one which has the uniformly brilliant and multi-talented cast – made up of David Insua-Cao, Francesca Simmons, Suzanne Andrade and Esme Appleton – ever on their toes. 

Tag-lined ‘stories from a simpler time’, this collection follows familiar patterns; nursery rhyme style refrains, cycles of action and witticisms to entertain the grown ups which likely don’t touch the sides of the ears of little ones – all winning elements in a show running at a child-friendly 70 minutes without interval. Quite apart from the entertainment value of the classic 1927 combination of live action and animation colliding in real time, some of the stories have some great subtle depth for the grown ups to chew over rather than the more conventional inclusion of the morality preachings for the children – a nice nod towards the more grown up back catalogue of this company.

In true 1927 style, many of the tales are told with a mischievous monotone and a gift for the dramatic revelation undercut with a sharp aside. The stories are however almost entirely dark and/or brooding without much respite, hence the 8+ age advisory. Giggles arise most often from the delivery of a shocking line rather than traditionally comic material and so while there are laughs to be had, the piece rests very happily on being a treasure trove of narratives without so much of a whiff of Disney-style dilution. What we have instead is something altogether more authentic and unapologetically grim(m) – with Sarah Munro’s notable cheeky costuming surprising and entertaining along the way.

This is distinctly 1927 work, but in this toe-dip into children’s theatre, writer and director Suzanne Andrade (Esme Appleton co-directs) has minimised some winning elements of 1927’s style and left others in the vault. There are some nice moments showcasing the glory of the sardonic narrator here but it’s understandably quite a limited influence – this production offers only baby steps towards that sparklingly underwhelmed worldview. 

Lillian Henley’s music is as arresting and characterful as ever, making use of some unusual instruments and sounds to accompany Paul Barritt’s thoroughly superb film, animation and design to conjure these other worlds. But I missed the genius of 1927 lyrics and musical numbers – not because this production is lacking, but because the songs have been such fantastic highlights in previous productions and I hoped to see that same kind of magic applied to a child’s show where it would be so at home – though perhaps that comfortability of songs in children’s stories is precisely what had our creatives locking that particular gem in the vault for safekeeping? After all, it wouldn’t do for this company to be conventional…

With Roots, 1927 have once again approached the wayward creature of storytelling with plenty of originality and creativity. If you’re looking for light and lively with slapstick, head to a classic production of any popular child’s tale. If you want to introduce yourself and/ or your child to a much rarer kind of storytelling which feels both incredibly modern and almost nostalgic all at once, 1927 won’t let you down. This is a great alternative show which happens to be child-friendly for the ‘brave’ child who enjoys the thrill of mild threat and grim plots – you’ll certainly not find another show like this one doing the rounds at the moment. So take the punt – crafty cats, dastardly parents and opportunistic canines await!

Roots plays Manchester HOME until December 30th 2019 and you can find tickets here. Following that, the show continues a limited tour and you can find information and tickets here.

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