|The Bayou is the sore on the underside of the city, a place where cockroaches congregate and children run wild; it’s cankerous and festering, riddled with petty crime and suspicious stains.|
This is the setting for the latest offering by 1927, the company responsible for the darkly enchanting Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, and it once again sees them blending live performance with animation to create something that resembles a living graphic novel.
This new piece feels more developed and ambitious than their earlier show; while Devil consisted of a series of amusingly macabre vignettes, this piece presents a more wholly realised world. There’s a greater clarity of voice and vision, a keener eye for the grotesque.
Suzanne Andrade’s script focuses on a group of characters who live in the sticky, seedy Bayou Mansions on Red Herring Street. Agnes Eaves moves into the building with her little cartoon daughter Evie and a vague notion that she can solve some of the social problems with craft workshops and an abundance of yogurt pots filled with PVA glue. The building’s caretaker, who is diligently saving his paycheques to buy his way out of the place, takes a shine to Agnes, but his attentions go unnoticed. At the same time the marauding silhouette children start to stray into the city’s parks and, what is worse, to make demands – “we want what you have” - so the mayor decides to round them all up and pump them full of drugs that will make them docile and compliant.
The fantastical elements help to sweeten what is a surprisingly bitter, if decidedly timely, pill. The faint strains of A Spoonful of Sugar can even be heard at one point as the authorities prepare to dope the children into submission. What might have floundered or appeared heavy-handed in a more conventional dramatic production is here able to sneak past the guards and wave its placards. The show is ribboned with a sense of bleak resignation; as the owner of the Bayou junk shop explains to her revolutionary-minded daughter Zelda, the leader of a pirate street gang: if you’re “born in the Bayou, you die in the Bayou.” This is a show that presents its audience with the illusion of choice between an idealist and a realist ending but inevitably comes down on the side of the real: no happy endings here, the grind continues.
Paul Barritt’s animation, sepia toned and splashed with crimson, is rich with reference from the Constructivists through to Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen. The meshing of live action and animation proves more versatile than before. While a certain static quality is inevitable, it only adds to the distinctive style of the piece and motion is successfully and amusingly conveyed by having streets spiral away behind the protagonists as they run on the spot. Despite the use of Cyrillic lettering and Soviet fonts, the piece is not rooted in any one place or time, which allows it a greater resonance and, while there are plenty of sight gags and teasing details, the animations also works in harmony with Andrade’s witty and pleasingly rhythmic script.
The Bayou’s various characters are divvied up between Andrade and Esme Appleton, their faces greased a moon-like white, while Lillian Henley provides live musical accompaniment throughout. Among their various roles, Andrade mutely plays the shock-headed caretaker, with Jamie Adams’ perfectly-pitched voice-over supplying his thoughts, while Appleton plays Agnes with her sweetly wholehearted belief that with enough dried pasta shapes and poster paint you can successfully heal an oozing wound.
Reviewed for musicOMH