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Brighton Year-Round 2020

Low Down

Tall tales from around the world bewitch and beguile in 1927’s enchanting compendium show.


It’s twelve years since 1927 triumphed at Edinburgh Fringe with their runaway hit Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea. I was in the small Underbelly audience in 2007, having taken a punt on unknown company that was the only non-comedy listing that night. It was immediately obvious that their synthesis of text, performance, animation and music had a very special aesthetic; it looked and sounded like nothing else on the cabaret scene. Since then the company has produced two hugely successful epic shows and collaborated with international partners on transformations of opera and Krazy Kat cartoons.


They go back to their roots with Roots, which is closer in form to that first show but full of the visual and musical magic and high production values for which they have justly become famous.


Its starting point is The Aarne Folk Tale Index a catalogue of thousands of folk tale types from around the world that reveals how folk stories are shared across continents and over centuries. Writer and director Suzanne Andrade selected 13 entries that intrigued and amused her, and with 1927’s creative team re-configured and updated them.


Each short vignette becomes a complete world with its own particular look and sound; it envelopes you like the perfect short story. Animator and designer Paul Barritt’s art seems invigorated by having a range of situations, people and things to illustrate rather than one continuous narrative. The painterly, vivid backgrounds of Snake are given a creepy edge by the sounds musicians David Insua-Cao and Francesca Simmons make with whirling plastic tubes. The story of the Ant (an accountant who honeymoons in Orkney) is drawn with sinewy black lines. Barritt plays with scale and seamlessly pairs animation with live action; performers Genevieve Dunne and Philippa Hambly movements are beautifully choreographed to what’s happening behind or in front of them on screen. They are pitch perfect whether voicing an animated cat, a cruel king or a luckless man. Sarah Munro’s fantastic costumes, colour coded and themed to match each story add to the visual power.


The musicians are central to the stage picture too, roving like troubadours with instruments ranging from the traditional violin and keyboards to Peruvian prayer box, donkey jaw and kazoo. Lillian Henley’s compositions counterpoint the action with spooky, jaunty music bringing a strong sense of place to each tale and heightening the emotional impact in the special way music can. The stories are narrated by friends and family some more successfully than others. Diction is occasionally muffled, though Nigel Hunt’s narration of The Luckless Man is a delight. The range of voices and accents take you around the world.


Some may find this selection box a bit whimsical but for me, the stories pack a punch and say something insightful if not profound. There’s the man who exchanges living with poverty for living with wealth; not necessarily a lesser burden, and a fat cat that eats all the fat cats. Andrade twists the fables to make them relevant where it suits her, so the woman with three wishes gets a pie, a pint and then bizarrely wishes to look and sound like the president of the USA, in this case Reagan. While she keeps in place the misogyny of obedient Griselda and the King who narrates his own myth, I strongly suspect their daughter will bring a reckoning.