REVIEW: The Animals and Children Took to the Streets (Christchurch Arts Festival)

Let your imagination run wild.

Magical mayhem [by Sharu Delilkan]

Let your imagination run wild.
Let your imagination run wild.

Stuffed into the Rudolf Steiner School building foyer, the children’s artwork and pictures on the walls mirrored what we had seen on the fences around the barren lots of Christchurch buildings that no longer were. And we were greeted by the most enthusiastic festival volunteer ever – she had seen the show and seemed fit to burst with the knowledge that we were going to share in her experience – what a great start.

The Animals and Children Took to the Streets opens with a Jetsons-like backdrop of a 1960s vision of future-opolis, but all the gritty action takes place in the arse-end of town, centered around Redherring St – a hot-bed of thieves, hookers, poverty, despair, where the only creatures that thrive are cockroaches and rodents of both the human and animal kind.

Visually and acoustically everything is stunningly rich with clever, witty and decadent animation combining in a beautifully choreographed work with live actors, music and crazy props. It’s fantasy, horror, grittiness, human, inhuman and scary all rolled in one, punctuated with hilarious wit and depressing charm.

The show has previously been described as Charles Dickens, Brothers Grimm, Roald Dahl, Tim Burton and/or Dr. Suess and for the tone and dark humour I’d like to add Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman and When the Wind Blows into the mix – the cartoonish nature and pastel shades of the animation was very reminiscent for me, and the fatalistic cynicism was equally delightfully portrayed.

The lives, times and tribulations of a number of downtrodden, scheming and charitable characters living in the same rotten tenement building, are portrayed in all their naked glory. Such a variety of experiences are effortlessly mingled here – music hall, animation, wit, loyalty, clowning, mime, and downright weirdness making it a unique theatrical genre that shouldn’t be categorised – just seen.

With animation projected into three screens, one could mistakenly think that the actors did little more than a bit of mime, but the skill, restraint and timing of the live action made it so engaging and satisfying.

By the end of the show I had written virtually no notes and my neck hurt from craning forward to immerse and dissolve myself into the piece. As mentioned, people may have previously compared this work to many things but that is all “bollocks” (as 1927’s characters would say), if you don’t see it for yourself.

The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is presented by 1927 and plays at the Rudolf Steiner School Hall until 1 September. More information at Christchurch Arts Festival.

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Holly Shanahan

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