Scenes from The Animals and Children Took to The Streets
With the release of Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer, 1927 marked the beginning of the end of the silent movie era. It’s for this reason, among others, that the theatre company made up of animator and film maker Paul Barritt and writer and performer Suzanne Andrade picked that year as their name. |
Founded in 2005, they’re a collaborative company, merging mediums and mixing animation with live performance and music. Their earlier show, Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea, took the form of a series of Shockheaded Peter-style vignettes with a silent movie visual style seasoned with the faintest trace of the Japanese Ring films.
Barritt joined musicOMH in the BAC café, where the accompanying artwork for 1927’s current production, The Animals and Children Took to The Streets, is about to be hung, to discuss the creative process behind this new show. He’s just returned from Australia where Animals and Children has gone down very well with both audiences and critics, receiving a five star write-up in Time Out. Though their earlier piece was a big success, playing at BAC in 2008 and going on to tour internationally, it reached the point where the company were keen to move on and create something new. “We toured it for a couple of years after that but were constantly thinking about what we’d make next. Eventually we had to sit down and make a start.”
The creative process has been different in many ways from that of their earlier work. “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea came together very naturally,” Barritt explains, but with the new show “we were writing as we were going. That side was difficult. We didn’t start out going: this is a story we’re going to tell. It was a devising process, a process of give and take.” The creation of a second major piece seems to have been a steeper learning curve than expected. “Suzanne and I worked very closely on getting that story together. It changed and changed and eventually materialized about a month before we’d finished it. It’s not a process we’re going to repeat!”
This is partly because company were determined not to just repeat their earlier work and were keen to push themselves further creatively. “We wanted to improve on what we’d done and expand on what we’d done,” says Barritt. “It would have been easy to go back to a vignette-style of working and make something like the last show. Instead we took on the idea of making a complete narrative.” The new show follows the stories of a group of characters who live in a crumbling tenement block called Bayou Mansions.
"It's like a graphic novel come to life." - Paul Barritt on 1927's The Animals and Children Took to the Streets.
As the animator the visual side of the process, creating the ‘look’ of the production, is Barritt’s field, though he stresses that the company’s way of working is very collaborative. The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea had a very distinctive look to it, monochrome and menacing; the new show is equally distinctive, though there’s a markedly different aesthetic at work. “All the fonts are constructivist, Soviet fonts, as oppose to the Edwardian look of the last show. This show is actually far more 20s” in its look, he says with amusement, while the last show “was more 1890s.” As the company worked on the production a world took shape visually and musically and the narrative grew out of it. Music played a key role in the last piece but here that’s been developed even further. “That was always one of our intentions, to have more songs, to make the most of Lily’s voice,” he says, referring to another member of the 1927 team, performer and musician Lillian Henley.
The interaction between live performance and animation is an integral part of their work. The performers need to stay in sync with the projections and the direction by necessity has a choreographic element. “The first works we made were very still,” Barritt explains, “but there’s more movement now. One of the things we were keen to do was move it off the screen and make the action come out more. However it hasn’t really worked like that. We though one of the issues we wanted to address was how to bring the work into a more three-dimensional space.” It was then pointed out to them that in doing this their work would lose something essential. “The show, as it is, is like a graphic novel come to life. The very fact that (the performers are limited in their movements) is part of its charm as well.”
Barritt believes that Animals and Children has a wider appeal than the last show. “That had a cabaret feel about it but this is more accessible to everybody.” He seems happy with the final shape the piece has taken, despite the difficulties in getting there. The show is likely to tour further in 2011 following its run at BAC and after that the company have further collaboration on the cards with an opera company in Berlin. There’s some last minute fine-tuning that needs to be done but otherwise Barritt seems happy to step back and let the current show play out. “It’s in the hands of the audience now.”
The Animals and Children took to the Streets plays at BAC from 8 December 2010 - 8 January 2011. For further details visit: BAC.org.uk
To see more of Paul Barritt's work visit: PaulBarritt.com
Read the OMH review of The Animals and Children Took to the Streets.