Wilton’s Music Hall
Reviewed – 7th October 2021
“As the audience, we teeter uneasily between outrage and laughter”
1927 is one of those rare, extraordinary, once in a generation companies that comes along to show us how theatre can be done, and how we’ve been doing it wrong all along. Their signature works such as Golem (2014) and now Roots (2019) are a seamless blend of live music and live performance stitched into fantastic animated collages projected onto a screen on an otherwise bare stage. 1927 takes the audience into the moving picture experience—and then opens doors and windows in the movie screen so that a live performer can cheekily poke through and explode the idea that watching anything on a screen is somehow real. Not content with that, 1927 also challenges our notions of what constitutes performance with this blend of live and projected action. Just as important, the narratives performed by this company give our imaginations a real workout as well.
In many ways, Wilton’s Music Hall is the perfect venue for a company like 1927, who generally need just a bare stage, a screen and a space for the performers and musicians to shimmy alongside. Anything else, even elaborate lighting, would be a distraction from the show taking place (mostly) at the back of the stage. But Wilton’s is a stained and faded beauty, with its patchwork walls and ceilings standing in mute and shabby chic testament to its long gone glory days as a Victorian music hall. It is somehow the perfect backdrop for a company that specializes in taking mythic stories from a murky past, and reanimating them, much like a latter day Frankenstein. Everything in Roots, though, is designed not to horrify, but to amuse—and to make us think. In the disturbing stories of cats that eat the world; murine husbands who fall into the stew while their ant wives are working, and ungrateful children who try to shed burdensome parents, there is a sly humour at work, present both in the images projected on the screen, and the actors in their drab but expressive costumes. As the audience, we teeter uneasily between outrage and laughter. Luckily for us, laughter usually wins out. There are faint echoes of music hall humour in all that 1927 presents. Wilton’s brings that out in sharp relief.
Unlike 1927’s Golem, which is a show with one overarching narrative, Roots is a medley of a dozen or so stories “from a simpler time” adapted from the British Library’s Aarne Index—a collection of folktales from around the world. There is no particular theme linking these stories together. 1927 have simply selected those that appealed, and adapted them to suit the instantly recognizable company style. These adaptations are set in a time that could be the 1920s—the costumes hint at that—but jump both forwards and backwards in time as well. The accompanying music is similarly hard to categorize. Clever use of conventional instruments such as violins are playfully augmented, as well as subverted, with the addition of “Peruvian prayer boxes, donkeys jaws…and musical saws.” The eerie sounds produced, once again do not frighten, but heighten, the experience of watching a 1927 show. Roots may disappoint some who go expecting a show with a more conventional approach to storytelling, but veteran viewers of the company’s work will appreciate Roots for what it is: not one mythic story, but many.
There is a consistently talented team at the core of 1927. Susanne Andrade, writer and performer, and Paul Barritt, animator and illustrator, have been working together since 2005. They’ve since been joined by performer and director Esme Appleton, when their trademark style of live performance and animation came into its own. Producer Jo Crowley keeps the company touring around the world. First produced for the Spoleto Festival USA in 2019, Roots now tours showcasing the work of costume designer Sarah Munro, and performers David
Insua-Cao, Francesca Simmons, Genevieve Dunne and Philippa Hambly. The voiceovers for each tale belong to friends and family of the company. Roots is a delicious combination of performance and animation talent working at the top of their game, all wrapped up and delivered in an unmissable show. See it at Wilton’s while you can.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Leigh Webber
Wilton’s Music Hall until 30th October
Shows reviewed by Dominica this year: