The Animals and Children Took to the Streets

Review in Issue 23-1 | Spring 2011

Dorothy Max Prior enjoys 1927’s extraordinary new show at BAC.

Welcome to Bayou Mansions, a smelly slum block on the downbeat and debauched Red Herring Street – a place where shady deals are done behind shuttered shopfronts, neglected children run riot, and canny cats rule the roost. We are warned: there will be victims; there will be villains. Trust no-one, suspect even your own shadow… and watch out because the wolf is always at the door.

The motley crew of residents – who include a host of housebound ladies-of-dubious-reputation clad in old-gold gowns; a downtrodden immigrant caretaker; a sassy wheeling and dealing shopowner and her Bolshevik daughter; and a naïve newcomer, a community artist who feels she can save the world with ‘love and collage’– are all played by the three onstage members of 1927. In an extraordinary feat of physical and visual performance, these three are mixed and mingled in with the set and props created through some of the most beautiful and cleverly integrated animation that you are likely to see on a stage – courtesy of fourth, offstage, company member Paul Barritt. To add to the mix, additional characters also exist in animated form – a herd of unruly children as silhouettes; various cartoon cats; and the artist’s child, Little Evie, who (almost inevitably) gets kidnapped. Oh and there is a lovely ‘absent character’ in the form of Wayne the Racist, who makes the caretaker’s life a misery.

There unfolds a deliciously dark story of do-gooding that does no good, thwarted ambitions, and dubious problem-solving. Can there be a happy ending? Unlikely – although we are given the choice. But no matter how hard we beg for ‘idealism’ inevitably it’s ‘realism’ that wins the day. The artist packs her bags and leaves, defeated; the caretaker nurses a broken heart and resigns himself to another seven years saving the seven hundred and seventy-seven Pounds he needs for a ticket home; and the Bayou brats are sedated into sleepy conformity. Well, it’s a resolution of sorts…

Stylistically, 1927 embrace a whole smorgasbord of influences and references and feed them into their work: silent movie melodrama, German expressionism, Soviet constructivism, the (grim) Grimm brothers, ETA Hoffman, Tim Burton, and the haughtily cruel humour of Joyce Grenfell’s monologues… and yet somehow it all pulls together. Yes, there are precedents and points-of-reference – Shockheaded Peter would be an obvious one for audiences of a certain age, and the ‘crossing the celluloid divide’ work of Forkbeard Fantasy another. But 1927 have a unique flavour and an aesthetic that is very much their own.

The particular talents of each company member are exploited to the max. We’ve mentioned filmmaker/animator Paul Barritt’s contribution, but there is also Suzanne Andrade’s razor-sharp writing and precisely articulated delivery; the very deft and delightful performance work of Esme Appleton; and the superb presence of composer/musician/performer Lillian Henley.

The musical elements of 1927 are one of its USPs. Lillian’s piano provides the ‘glue’ for the show – setting the pace, changing the mood, and giving nuance to the scenes. In 1927’s first show, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, she was in front of the filmic set, almost as a silent movie accompanist. In this show, she is integrated into the action – her piano hidden and her framed ‘hatch’ cleverly transformed by the projected images from apartment block window to ice cream van, cinema box office, or railway station ticket office. She even gets to leave her piano for a brief moment, transforming into a hobbling old woman who carries an unwanted puppy in a bin bag to shove down a rubbish chute. (Bayou Mansions is that sort of a place.)

With such onstage ease and offstage expertise on show, it seems hard to believe that The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is only 1927’s second show. The first, Between The Devil… was a massive success at the Edinburgh Fringe 2007 – winning a Fringe First, a Total Theatre Award, and a Herald Angel, and subsequently toured worldwide to great acclaim.

So, with a lot to live up to, this second show has been a long time in the making. The Animals and Children Took to the Streets finally premiered in Australia autumn 2010 before taking up residency at BAC for a full month over the winter holiday season. It has been ‘scratched’ at various points over the past couple of years, and this slow development has meant that there has been a solid investment in the work from both the company and the audience. This investment has paid off, as 1927 now have a second beautifully imagined and wonderfully realised show that will no doubt have a long and fruitful life.

Dorothy Max Prior saw 1927’s The Animals and Children Took to the Streets at BAC, London, 17 December 2010.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Dec 2010

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Issue 23-1
p. 29