Tom Hunt - Dominion Post
Nestled between two world wars, the 1920s in Europe was a time of decadence. It was also a time of a revolution in art, feminist power, and wealth.
The "absurdly grotesque" period and the coming Great Depression hang over The Animals and Children Took to the Streets.
Suzanne Andrade has co-curated the show and performs in it. Yesterday, over a coffee in Wellington, she explained her role as artistic director of 1927, the theatre company behind the show.
The company's name is deceiving. 1927 was born five or six years ago but sources its name from its 1920s inspiration - a time of the first "talkie" film and a European cultural revival.
The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is set in a tenement block in a dystopian city - possibly London - and tells the story of Agnes Eaves and her daughter, who try to change the block.
"All sorts of horror and hilarity ensues," Andrade says.
A complex array of animated projections interact with the actors in what can be a disarming twist on reality. While on the surface the show is a rollicking - if dark - tale, Andrade says it also has political and social undertones. As absurd decadence plunged the world into a depression then, the world is now amid a similar over-spending crisis.
The dystopian play was also doubtlessly inspired by the industrial area of London in which the show was created over six months. "You have this burgeoning middle class and extreme poverty," she says.
Above the rehearsal space was one African church, another African church next door, and a Chinese takeaways on the other side. "You hear the churches and clapping and singing. We were probably quite influenced by what was going on."
Another inspiration was when the company - pre-Animals and Children - visited an old colonial mansion in Hong Kong where wires hung from the walls and cockroaches ruled. In London that was turned into projected cockroaches which scatter the walls in the play.
The troupe had been in Hong Kong touring their first show as a company, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. The play opened in Edinburgh in 2007 and toured widely. It was a hit at the 2010 festival in Wellington.
Dominion Post reviewer Ewen Coleman called it as a quirky tale with sinister undertones about the silent movie era.
"Gingerbread men rising up against the pastry chef, causing mayhem till the streets run red with raspberry jam; a young girl selling herself to raise money for the poor while her parents are out playing tennis; housewives with the clap; and the sinister end to the lodger are but some of the tales the group has cleverly and inventively put together. Macabre and twisted, yet often funny, these gothic fairy stories are told through a seamless integration of film and performance."
Andrade - previously a performance poet in London - met her collaborator, illustrator Paul Barritt, after he heard her interviewed on a radio show.
The troupe's other core members - actor and costume designer Esme Appleton and composer and piano player Lillian Henley joined up - and 1927 was born.
The subsequent success of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, as it moved from the cabaret circuit to serious theatre and the world touring circuit, surprised Andrade. "Suddenly we had Guardian readers there stroking their chins."
On the back of that show's success, 1927's next premiere was booked at the Sydney Opera House even before a new show had been created. "This show was so different to make because we felt so much pressure," she says.
While aspects of the two are similar - the projections, the foreboding world - Animals and Children has a more political edge, veering away from the satirical. "This time we are saying a little bit more about how we live and what we do."
And it seemingly worked. "A jaw-droppingly clever and gloriously subversive parable . . . 1927 conjure a world so complete it feels as if you've fallen down a rabbit hole," The Guardian said.
The Animals and Children Took to the Streets,
Opera House tonight and tomorrow 8pm;
March 10, 1pm and 6pm; March 11, 6pm.