On both sides of the Atlantic, the critics agree on two points regarding The Animals and Children Took to the Streets. The offbeat theater piece by the London-based company 1927 is (a) brilliant, and (b) difficult to describe.
Seemingly incongruous references keep popping up in the reviews, from Charles Dickens to George Orwell, and from Buster Keaton to modern-day graphic novels. Together they suggest a unique mix of the beautiful and the unsettling.
“We want to create a different world, which isn’t held down to a particular period or country,” said cast member and costume designer Esme Appleton. “We try to create a world where the audience can come in and feel like they’ve entered a bizarre version of reality.”
The 70-minute work, which mixes live performance with animation, is a sociopolitical satire set in a darkly whimsical world. UCSB Arts & Lectures will present it for one night only, at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 25, in Campbell Hall.
“The play wraps themes of social injustice and chronic deprivation in a gorgeous, sugar-spun concoction,” Sophie Gilbert of Washingtonian magazine wrote last June, when the production made its American debut in our nation’s capital. She noted that it is set in a slum neighborhood of a large, wealthy city, the Bayou, which is “inhabited by criminals, racists, prostitutes, junkies, and an underclass of feral, uncontrollable children.”
In an apparent send-up of well-intentioned do-gooders, Appleton plays a wealthy woman who moves into the run-down neighborhood with her daughter, in the hope they can be a positive influence on the unruly kids. Alas, her plans fail miserably (and comically), leading the local mayor to concoct a more dastardly way to rid the area of the little brats.
The work premiered in late 2010, about eight months before the London riots. Those disturbances changed the way people reacted to the show, according to Appleton. “Pre-riots, it was a ‘funny little story.’ After, it was seen as this prescient piece,” she said.
“If people can’t see the impoverished, they are more than happy to pretend they don’t exist, and the world is a lovely place. But as soon as those worlds collide, we start to care — and that’s what happened with the riots. Problems can only be ignored for so long before they boil over.”
That said, Appleton and her fellow artists are not interested in agitprop.
“We think theater is a perfect medium for political messages, but we like to put these within a rather fantastical setting and story,” she said. “We don’t want to preach to the audience. This approach allows us to put messages across without being didactic.”
The company was founded in 2005 by writer, performer and director Suzanne Andrade and writer and illustrator Paul Barritt. Its name reflects the fact that 1927 was the year of the first talking motion picture.
“We are heavily influenced by film, but we love the immediacy of theater,” Appleton explained. “So we combine the two.”
The Animals and Children Took to the Streets will be at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday, April 25 at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.