The Animals and Children Took to the Streets at the Lyric Hammersmith
Occasionally, less often than we would like, one comes across a piece of work in which the overriding sentiment is the pleasure someone took in making it. They are unpretentious, joyous and often unladen by commentary or the active pursuit of meaning. It’s possible to tell just by looking at it that someone had a really fantastic time putting it together and that it was made in total abandon and with breathless earnestness.
In the case of The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, this earnestness is ironically found in a deeply cynical plot. Production company 1927 are reviving their 2010 play that combines live music, acting and animation to tell the story of the infamous Bayou tenement block and their problematic children infestation. Through Lillian Henley’s jaunty and discordant composition, the three actresses’ vaudeville style acting and Paul Barritt’s bleak and scratchy animation, an idiosyncratic and self-contained world is created. The Bayou and Red Herring Street are a fairytale setting in that it is totally self-referential, irreverent and works by its own highly stylised rules of engagement. The full effect is something like Wes Anderson without the ego, reminiscent of the darkness and wry humour of a Sylvain Chomet film.
This is matched by writer and director Suzanne Andrade’s whirling script and how it interacts with its animated settings. The whole piece is a reel of in-jokes, references and smart visual gags that play with perspective and realism. It’s in the almost throw-away details that Andrade’s genius comes through. From the outrageous neighbour called Wayne the Racist and his eight racist children to the bleak caretaker’s self-assessment, “I am the blown light bulb. I am the persistent drip. I am the caretaker”, the dialogue and narration is smattered with the light touches and giggles that show a writer immersed in her coherent and consistent vision.
In a way, this giddy jam-packing of the world with characters and settings does take away from the plot. It seems like the work would almost be better as a series of vignettes or skits in which the heavy hand of a three-part structure doesn’t have to interfere. The last third of the show, when the action really has to get going and wrap up, loses some of the dexterity of the beginning and it’s hard to feel that invested in a story that definitely comes second to tone and world building.
Because of the overwhelming good nature of this production, however, in the end it’s hard to care about the woolly plot lines. The play almost asks us not to, in fact. It encourages an adult audience to shift priorities for a second and give themselves up to the nonsensical trajectories of fairytale whimsy, albeit with a sardonic eyebrow raised.
The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is at the Lyric Hammersmith from 19th February until 16th March 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.