From the tale of a man who shares his house with Poverty to a cat that consumes everything it sees, the folk stories that make up 1927’s latest animated stage show Roots offer a glimpse into a world both familiar and strange. The company behind touring hits including Golem and The Animals and Children Took to the Streets has delved into The British Library’s Aarne Index – a collection of thousands of traditional stories from all over the world – to create a show that depicts a weird, warped parade of cannibalistic parents and tyrannical ogres. As ever, the multimedia company draws on an eclectic range of styles and influences to bring the stories to life, from the Surrealist paintings of Max Ernst to the films of 1960s French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard.
The show also harks back to the company’s own ‘roots’, explains co-founder Paul Barritt, whose distinctive style of animation runs through all their work. “When we started out in 2005 our shows were far more stripped-back, partly because they were made with limited resources. They have got bigger and bigger since and we wanted to take a step back, to get back to our essence.” The 1927 aesthetic has frequently been compared to that of ‘a weird fairytale’, he says, and the magical and mythical has long informed work such as 2015 show Golem, inspired by a Jewish folk tale about a man who fashions a creature out of clay to work for him. “It made sense to make something that was directly drawn from that context.” The stories collected in the Aarne Index offered an interesting starting point, in part due to their brevity: “The index only gives a very brief synopsis of each tale so Suze [Andrade, co-founder, director and writer] just used them as a springboard for her imagination.” While the stories were collected at the turn of the 20th century there is a timeless quality to them, Barritt goes on. “These sorts of tales have always been a means of understanding the world and of making sense of the challenges humans face. Some of them are undoubtedly a product of their time but there is a lot that still rings true today.”
While it’s a more pared-back show than their previous appearances in Brighton, it still bears all the 1927 hallmarks, Barritt says, from the breathtaking melding of animation, performance and film, to a live musical score performed on instruments from a berimbau – a Brazilian, single-string musical bow made from a gourd – to a donkey’s jaw. Well, actually, the donkey’s jaw has been dropped since, Barritt explains. “It doesn’t really work in a touring show. Places like Australia just won’t let you in with something like that.” The pitfalls of navigating customs with a few bones in your holdall; it’s not a typical workplace problem, but perhaps not so unusual in the rabbit-hole world of 1927.
The Old Market, Jan 3rd–18th.