The Animals and Children Took to the Streets | 1927
Left & Cover - Esme Appleton
I have been to the theatre six times in the past month, including three shows in London, and this is only the second time I have been completely and utterly captivated by what can only be called a delightfully imaginative and spellbinding work of art.
Appearing at the Perth International Arts Festival, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is a modern Gothic fairytale created by 1927, a contemporary performance company from the UK. It tells the story of ‘The Bayou’, a dark and dingy city slum, abandoned by the authorities and hated by everyone, including its inhabitants. Amongst these are the world weary Caretaker, petty criminal and shopkeeper Mrs Villicar and her defiant, Marxist-reading daughter Zelda. New to town are Anges and Evie Eaves, who have come to Red Herring St armed with love and art classes to help solve the problem of the Bayou’s rebellious youth. However, the Mayor of town has a more sinister solution in mind and the lives of these inhabitants become intertwined as his nefarious plan rolls out onto the The Bayou.
What makes The Animals and Children Took to the Streets so compelling is 1927’s approach to their work. Described as ‘unique multi-disciplined magical filmic theatre’, the company utilises a live piano score, spoken word and voice over, cabaret style songs, physical theatre, and most brilliantly, live interaction between the performers and film-style animation projected on the three screens that comprise the set. Film animator and designer Paul Barritt has created a Tim Burton-esque landscape of dark, muted tones, sharp lines, dirt, grit and cockroaches. With choreographic precision, the performers moved through the various locales and events displayed on the screens, from pushing the (animated) Evie Eaves on a playground swing, to running away from children whilst being pelted with popcorn.
Writer, director and performer Suzanne Andrade helped set the tone for the show from the very beginning; her opening monologue as a Bayou resident was sharp, witty and dark. As the physical body of Caretaker (voice over was provided by Jamie Addie) and Mrs Villicar, she showed remarkable control, poise and skill. Esme Appleton was equally fun and brilliant as Agnes Eaves and Zelda, and Lillian Henley’s musical and performance accompaniment was superb. Their speed and skill in the quick costume changes and interaction with the film projection made the whole effect seem effortless, and really helped absorb you in the delightfully twisted world of the Bayou.
Overall The Animals and Children Took to the Streets had the look and feel of a 1920s silent film; from the live piano score, to some of the animation friezes, use of shadow, light and spotlight transitions. There was also a tremendous level of eye-catching and fun detail in the overall design; from a prop cardboard pen labelled ‘pen’, the decorative red herrings on Mrs Villicar’s turban, to the most creepy and disturbing use of a Mary Poppins song I have ever heard.
Whilst this all sounds startlingly different, like all fairy stories, the show is also startlingly relevant. Caught up in the narrative, it is a while before you realise you are actually watching a comment on bureaucracy and its indifference to the struggles of our every day lives, particularly those people whose lives take place on the periphery of society; the characters are stuck in pre-recorded telephone queues, in Emergency Departments with no beds, and in a Bayou that just happens to be in the Mayor’s ‘blind spot’. As they say, those who are born in the Bayou, die in the Bayou.
Despite such heavy undertones, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets manages to strike the right entertaining balance by also being darkly funny, self-referential and self-effacing. It is just so richly layered and imaginative that you will want to see it again and again to catch the multitude of whimsical and magical details you may have missed the first time when you were too busy marvelling at the story unfolding before you. I certainly hope to.
2011 Perth International Arts Festival
The Animals and Children took to the Streets
Venue: The Astor Theatre, Perth
Dates: Tue 1 - Sun 6 March 2011
Tickets: $47.50 - $41
Duration: 1hr 15 min no interval
Captioned Performance: Thur 3 March, 7.30pm
Bookings: 6488 5555