Recently picked up by the National Theatre, 1927’s The Animals and Children Took to the Streets was first seen at the BAC last winter, and while not much about the show has changed, the circumstances to which it alludes have.
In a short space of time 1927 have developed a simple and concentrated aesthetic, central to which is their distinctive animation technique, where powerful projectors create beautifully observed and quaintly simplistic environments with which the players might interact to beguiling effect. The technique works here especially because of the attention to detail of animator Paul Barritt, the marvellous sense of spatial and topographic versatility that animation can bring, the inventive interactions, and just the simple detail of leaving a bleeding white space where the actors traverse the screen. But if this were just empty formalism it wouldn’t be half as charming as it is; Animals and Children possesses a keen conscience, and the piece’s adorable charge derives as much from its poignant evocation of time and place as does its effervescing novelty.
The Bayou is a little like a cross between Beasley street as imagined by John Cooper-Clark and Hell’s Kitchen circa 1970 – a crumbling exilic neighbourhood populated by long-term under threat tenants. The female inhabitants, all floral aprons and cigarette holders, are utterly, shambolically and delightfully Grey Gardens. They are like the old woman who lived in the shoe, if the shoe was something from the golden age of Tiffany & Co; or Mother Hubbard whose cupboard was bare, if that cupboard was a Fortnum and Mason Golden Jubilee afternoon tea stand. These faded elder stateswomen stoically and cynically bemoan the state of the neighbourhood, while taking secret joy in its debasement – canny, because theatre in this country adores shabby gentility, reflecting as it does its own Hapsburgian narratives of aristocratic decline. And while the whole aesthetic shebang may have in recent years been hijacked by the Islington boutique lifestlye-gash of “shabby chic” here the RP accents and waspish evasiveness hit notes as sweet as Lillian Henley’s rickety piano music which accompanies them.
The central plank of the story involves the accreted gangs of youths that roam the Bayou causing merry havoc. These are played by animations, part South Park, part David Shrigley, dark silhouetted figures that toddle along stealing things and burning cars etc. And while the authoritarian response imagined in the piece is pharmaceutical (Granny’s gumdrops here the stand-in cosh for Ritalin) the most recent car-burning by this country’s youth throw up a fresh context. After the riots lines such as “the mayor needed a quick fix solution” and “they say these children need love and affection, if all else fails might I suggest vivisection” cut awfully close to the repressive bone, as in magistrates courts across the land, juridical norms are set aside for sentencing. The winking call for “better living conditions, better education and an Xbox” echoes the complexity of looting as a political act. And ultimately the doom-laden motif, that cries for all failures of social mobility “when you’re born in the Bayou, you’re going to die in the Bayou too”, resounds poignantly. Theatre so often uses fairytales to convey enduring stories – ‘MalaProppisms’ as we might name the tendency, which, in Doggberryish fashion so often makes errors of substitution, divorcing itself from the world, giving us regressive circularity. 1927 show the power of a good story well told, their innovation lying not just in animated worlds but in fairytale relevance.