MIAF: roots

MIAF19 1927 presents roots - photo by Leigh WebberUK company 1927 blend theatre with animation, and they have a history with the Melbourne International Arts Festival (MIAF). They impressed audiences with Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea in 2008, and The Animals and Children Took to the Streets in 2010.

MIAF 2019 is lucky to have roots, which premiered at Spoleto Festival USA and had a season at the Edinburgh International Festival. The work gives us some new “Fairy Tales” set in times modern or not so long ago, but there’s no singing sidekicks here.

In the programme for roots, Writer and Director Suzanne Andrade explained how compendia like the Aarne Index helped her appreciated the breadth of silliness and oddity of folk tales. In a very un-Disney manner, Andrade used this in writing her own stories, resisting the urge to impose a modern sensibility on characters, or to force feed us some moral lesson.

The results of the intended “folk jokes” could be very funny, at times showing that particularly irreverent British slant which has evolved since The Goon Show.

More consistently though, the results were weird in a way that could be vaguely unsettling, even if quite enjoyable. 1927 had friends and family (lacking theatrical training) playing narrators of the tales, whilst some of the company (Genevieve Dunne, David Insua-Cao, Phillipa Hambley, and Francesca Simmons) vigorously pranced around the stage to play the characters, or lent their physicality to the animation and stage design of Paul Barritt.

Those not playing an on-stage role would be performing musical compositions by Lillian Henley, realising moods from plaintive to energetic (or maybe deranged), to complement the offbeat scenes.

The Company kept the surprises coming, as our scenes ranged from Mod animals in 1960s Paris to a town in the Wild West beset by an ogre. Perhaps owing to a greater conscious of matters like ice caps and carbon these days, some ideas touching on the tension between sustainability and greed bubble to the surface, say as in the tale of the fishing family of Mum, Dad, and child, who always catch one fish each per day, and never go hungry.

More kinked stories include that of the house cat who lets hunger overcome his manners, where the skill and snappiness of the animation extract comedy from savagery. Other stories, such as on the unremarkable woman winning three wishes, seem to prick our conscience for having such small ambitions when we could aspire to more.

Perhaps some of the tales leant a little heavily on some impressively psychedelic animations rather than a memorable story. However, the scenes are all quite short, and there’s ample opportunity to find how 1927’s brand of storytelling can indulge your own twisted sense of humour, or challenge your expectations of what makes a “good” story. All ages were in attendance, yet some shaggy simulated nudity might make the evening a little awkward for those with younger children.

Certainly roots (also the title of one of the tales) is a well-polished offering, slickly presented. It was a pleasant change of pace from more “serious” theatre, that was enjoyably kooky, even without happy endings.

Merlyn Theatre – The Coopers Malthouse, Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Thursday 3 October 2019 – 7:30pm
Season continues to 6 October 2019
Information and Bookings: www.festival.melbourne

Image: 1927 presents roots – photo by Leigh Webber

Review: Jason Whyte