at Warwick Arts Centre, Thursday 14th February 2013
It’ll be a long time before I see projection used in theatre as brilliantly as this again. More than any other show I’ve seen, 1927’s The Animals and Children Took to the Streets blends projection and theatre seamlessly, merging the two so that they support and interact with one another to find a gorgeous halfway point as each uses the other to better tell the story. Paul Barritt’s animation is the star of the show, as the production plays out in front of us and we’re never quite sure where reality lies.
Suzanne Andrade’s script is written and narrated in the style of a children’s story, but the content is far darker than the tone would suggest. In a dark, poverty-stricken area of a city lies the Bayou Mansions, a tenement block into which Agnes Eaves and her daughter Evie move. Agnes’ landlord falls in love with her and worships her from afar. Alongside the central story however, is a story of rebellion and revolt, as the children living in the Bayou “take to the streets” to vent their frustration at the world around them.
There’s an elegant simplicity in the set-up of the show, with one large flat centre stage and two smaller ones either side, all of which have small windows. Onto these flats is projected any number of settings and images, so that within an instant we can travel from a dream-world to a back-alley. They act, then, as panels in a comic book, and the style of Barritt’s animation reflects this (with references to Soviet propaganda thrown in, too).
What’s most remarkable, however, is not the animation itself, but the way in which the actors interact with it. At one moment, the landlord sweeps a broom as dust appears on the screen with each brush, and at another a cigarette is held up while smoke is projected onto the image. With brilliant timing, Agnes Eaves (one of the performers) and Evie Eaves (an animation) mimic one another’s body language and walk along scenes together.
As far as I can tell, the only source of light in the show is the projectors. This makes the whole endeavour all the more impressive considering that, in order for this to work, body-sized ‘holes’ have to be cut out of each frame of animation so that bright, uniform colours can be added in to light up actors’ faces. To this end, actors wear white, expressionistic face make-up, which both allows emotion to be more keenly rendered and adds to the strange, other-worldly theatricality of the piece.
The three performers (Sue Abbleby, Lewis Barfoot and Eleanor Buchan) play a range of roles between them, and each character is larger than life, keeping in line with the comic-book feel of the show. Music by Lillian Henley plays throughout, suggesting moments of pathos or humour without overpowering the whole thing. There’s much to love and to say about The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, but it’s difficult to convey it’s captivating charm in writing. As far as I can tell, the production continues its tour into the summer. Just get a ticket.