Review – Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – 1927 at the Battersea Arts Centre

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Between Masque of the Red Death and The Human Computer, I’ve been pretty pleased with the offerings of the Battersea Arts Centre, so I had no hesitations about going ahead and booking for “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” despite having no further information about it than what little was on the website: “Using the aesthetic of silent film, a series of comic vignettes unfold in which the actresses interact seamlessly with antiquated animation accompanied by a charming, often eerie, piano score …” Well, okay, why not! I love silent movies and this sounded like it was just up my alley … and it was right down the street from my flat … perfect for a Saturday.

By the time the show rolled around I’d pretty much forgotten everything I read about it. We walked up the main staircase of the BAC and then into the space used for Masque’s cabaret and sat down in some benches facing a thrust stage. To the left, a blonde woman with a whitened face played piano; in the aisle, a woman sold program “and for three pounds, you can have one with sweeties.” These included a gingerbread man and some peppermint sticks, and seemed like a good deal, though I felt like I would have been better served by buying some wine in the bar downstairs to keep me company during the show.

The evening started properly when The Bee’s Knees, a female dance duo I’d last spotted at Miss Behave’s Naughty Nightie, doing their 20s Charleston gig. This, however, became even more fun when they returned and did a set in which the projected movies from the stage helped them perform costume changes and even a memorable head switch – truly not the kind of thing I’d ever seen done on stage before! I don’t think they’re particularly amazing dancers, but they were fun to watch and a good choice to get us in the right mood for the evening.

After this, 1927 got into their actual performance. It was described as ten short works. These are the titles of the works: 9 Deaths of Choo Choo the Cat, Manderley, The Lodger, Sinking Suburbia, The Buscuiy Tin Revolution, My Old Aunt, The Grandmother, The Misadventures of Frau Helga Von Schnetterline, The Devil’s Boot’s Creek. The general idea was that one or two of the young lassies that compose 1927 (one a blonde, but not the pianist; the other a brunette with a bob; both with white faces – there are other members but only the pianist appeared – the projectionist/animator stayed in the booth) would interact on stage with the projections being showed. This could be as simple as staying put while lines were drawn around them (or something more complex was shown, i.e. blowing out smoke rings from a cigarette); it could mean that their dresses were used as a projection screen. Choo Choo the cat was a great introduction to the whole style as the animation allowed all sorts of silly things to happen to the girl playing Choo Choo that couldn’t have been done at all with traditional stage play, and it all was fairly comic and fun. There was also a narrative bit of animation or two.

My favorite bits were the ones with two sort of evil/demented sisters a la Edward Gorey. They were looking for someone to play with, and the movie showed what had happened to their other friends/toys. They reappeared again in the show and did a little audience interaction bit that I’ll leave a secret so as not to ruin the surprise.

Overall this was a fun evening though quick as it ended at 8:45. It wasn’t particularly intellectually challenging but for those who like silent movies or Gorey-esque humor I would recommend it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, December 6th, 2008.)

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