This review was written for Animations Online
Inventively blending projected animation with live action, ‘The Animals and Children Took to the Streets’ is a visual treat from the 1927 theatre company. A bare stage, save for three simple white screens, is transformed into the deliciously seamy Bayou Mansions – which sprawl and crawl over Red Herring Street on the slummy edges of a city – by just three actors and an animator. The story is a simple one, wittily told mainly through song. It charts the chaos and comeuppance of the Bayou’s rowdy children.
Despite the title, there are in fact very few animals (save for cockroaches) and the children themselves are all animated, bar one. The main protagonists are actually the adults – a hapless caretaker who is accompanied always by a booming internal monologue; an optimist from out of town who believes collage is the key to calming the children down; a brash shopkeeper who buys and sells everything and anything, legal or otherwise; and some ladies in leopard print who, chorus-like, provide deadpan commentary throughout using playful piano tunes.
The live characters are exaggerated types, with clownish painted white faces and bold costumes in red and black. The three screens that form the set have windows cut into them for people to appear inside, and the actors merge with the projected scenery and animated children to brilliant effect. When the caretaker sweeps, clouds of animated dust billow from the floor. The animation is sophisticated but has a hand crafted feel about it too. The experience is something like watching a comic strip or graphic novel come to life – one sketched in vintage sepia tones and brought alive by the city’s most eccentric lowlifes.
First performed at Battersea Arts Centre in December 2010, this second outing at the National Theatre is evidence that creative, visual theatre is able to draw in mainstream audiences. With great music, a tiny bit of blue language and a non-happy ending, it’s suitable for adults and children alike and is a perfect alternative Christmas show.