Wednesday, March 2, 2011

PIAF: The Animals and Children Took to the Streets

Written and directed by Suzanne Andrade
Film animation and design by Paul Barritt
Music by Lillian Henley
Featuring Suzanne Andrade, Esme Appleton, Lillian Henley and the voice of James Addie
Astor Theatre
1 – 6 March, 2011

Ten minutes into The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, the tiny British troupe 1927’s gorgeous tour-de-force of live and animated theatre-making, I was completely enthralled by the twisted wit of writer and director Suzanne Andrade, the simply extraordinary animated trompe l’oeil of animator and designer Paul Barritt and the mordant, sharply performed songs composed by Lillian Henley.
Henley, Esme Appleton (also the company’s costume maker) and Andrade — who has as enunciated and beguiling a voice as I’ve ever heard — give riveting performances in a show that takes the integration of real and animated action to a level of faultless precision. 
The show’s technical brilliance is marshalled in the service of an equally impressive setting and theme. We leave the glistening towers of a wealthy, hedonistic metropolis and go just a mile or two east to Red Herring Street and the Bayou Mansions, the city’s “thorn in the side/ ghost at the feast”, where life is as hard as nails. The place is literally crawling with vermin (Barritt’s animated walls are constantly criss-crossed by cockroaches) and wriggling with perverts and other human detritus – the memorable Wayne the Racist and his racist children are mere comic relief in this nasty urban jungle.
We are warned that there is no escape from Red Herring Street – “born in the Bayou/ die in the Bayou too” – but for some, like the lonely caretaker who has saved 777 pounds, 77 pence for a one-way ticket out, and the evangelical Agnes Eaves and her daughter Eavie who come to the Bayou to save the souls of its children through “love, encouragement and collage”, there are dreams of a better life.
Saving the kids will be tough, though. This is a place where the children come out at night, and when Zelda, the Brechtian daughter of the Queen of the Bayou, the brothel-keeper and pawnbroker Mrs Villigan, and her pirate gang break out from Red Herring Street and descend on the prim and manicured City Park hell-bent on trouble, the city fathers give it back to them in spades.
The caretaker (Esme Appleton) and Eavie Eaves make their escape
And that’s where the trouble began for me, too. The pace and inventiveness of the production fall away a little to accommodate a story of abduction, sacrifice, escape and rescue; it’s all good black fun with a suitably Dickensian moral (and a twist) in its tale, but I don’t think that’s what 1927 are here for, and neither was I. It wasn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but when a show takes you up as high as this one, it’s a shame to be brought back to earth, even just a bit, by a fairly stock storyline.
But forget I said that: Animals and Children, with its seamless mix of the real and fantastical, is as marvellous to watch and listen to as The Triplets of Belleville or Howl’s Magic Castle, and as strange and wonderful to contemplate as Victor Hugo’s elephant. It’s not to be missed.

There was one other reason things went a bit awry about ten minutes in. It wasn’t a visual trick by 1927’s Paul Barritt; I was the victim of the Astor Theatre’s seating, which I imagine is okay for movies, when you’re looking up to the screen, or concerts where you’re moving about a bit, but is a serious issue when you’re trying to watch a production like Animals and Children. I realise the Festival has a continuing challenge finding suitable spaces for all its shows, but I urge them to be mindful of the sight lines at the Astor before housing shows there.

Robin Pascoe also had a good time with the beasts and kids; link here for his review in The West Australian.

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