THE ANIMALS AND CHILDREN TOOK TO THE STREETS
by Suzanne Andrade.
Battersea Arts Centre (Council Chamber) Lavender Hill SW11 5TN To 8 January 2011.
7.30pm 27-30 Dec, 3-8 Jan (4; 6-8 Jan 7.30pm Sold Out).
3pm 28, 30 Dec, 8 Jan.
Runs 1hr 15min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7223 2223.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 December.
Fascinating Bayou tapestry.
It’s no longer novel for performances to mix film and live action, with characters stepping between screen and stage. But 1927’s new show builds on the sickly-sweet menace of their earlier Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea in creating the look and atmosphere of silent cinema just before its sophisticated techniques were shoved aside by the sound stages. Around, for example, 1927.
There are modern moments – the cityscape that frames the action, a TV set, a reference to DVDs. But the action’s set in the 1920s Bayou, a tenement slum away from the gleaming city-centre. To be born there is to be condemned to live there, as a good-hearted caretaker finds out.
Around such realism weaves a story as fantastic as any the silent film-makers might have invented. A middle-class do-gooder arrives, fails to do much good and leaves – she can, she wasn’t born there. But not before danger impounds her daughter, leading to a hectic chase. Nearby, there’s a park, cleaned-up by the cat-loving Mayor so the Bayou residents don’t disturb the leisure activities of people from elsewhere in the city. Until a rebel gang is formed.
Under hefty white-face make-up the actors skilfully present silent-film acting in strong, set facial expressions or stylised running, given context by Paul Barritt’s superb flow of projections. Recalling Russian and German cinema of the era in its shapes and patterns, the screen also fills with figures of children racing around, or creates the shadows of top-hatted gentlemen visiting the Bayou for their own purposes.
The detail of many images is amazing, the sense of place the main locations offer as they recur eidetic. The flawlessly-timed interplay of all this with the onstage performances is a major technical achievement of Suzanne Andrade’s direction.
But it’s the reflection of a fragmented city, with its forgotten tenements or estates, a persisting phenomenon vividly shown in this macabre period story, that makes the piece more than mere theatrical bravura. That, and the menacing innocence of Lillian Henley’s songs, which completes this show’s unique capturing of both the fantasy and social realism in 1920s cinema.
Cast: Suzanne Andrade, Esme Appleton, Lillian Henley.
Voice of The Caretaker: Jamie Adams.
Performer-Usherettes: Naomi Hill, Louise Coleman, Susanna Fiore.
Director: Suzanne Andrade.
Music: Lillian Henley.
Film/Animation: Paul Barritt.
Costume: Esme Appleton, Sarah Munro.