Deep within the metropolis is its squelching, unruly and dangerous underbelly — welcome to the Bayou. Dark, dynamic and innovative, 1927’s The Animal And Children Took To The Streets at the The National Theatre is a mesmeric collaboration between actors, animation, film and live music.
The Bayou Mansions houses the city’s great unwashed, characterised by brothels, pawn shops, peeping toms and wild children. And it is the latter which draws Agnes Eaves to this squalid dwelling. Agnes is a lovely, naive do-gooder, believing all the unruly youngsters need is a bit of love and a good dose of papermache, so she decides to move into the mansions with her perfectly-behaved daughter Evie.
The story of Agnes, played beautifully by Esme Appleton, is the structure that holds the piece together, but it is the characters who were born in the Bayou who set the tone for the play. Radical teenagers, embittered madams, lost souls — this is a play about the people the city forgets. First performed in 2010 at the BAC, the show preempted the London riots, presenting an urban sprawl at war with itself. The play morphs into a cry for equality, exploring the side of the city we aren’t supposed to see. The Bayou’s unruly chant “we want what you have out there”, evoking images of what happened in this city last year.
The emblem of the forgotten people is the Bayou Mansion’s comically melancholic caretaker. The caretaker is the definition of a weathered man — grey, cynical, intensely funny. The loveable loser is played excellently by Suzanne Andrade, who is also the show’s writer and director.
It is testament to Andrade and her cast that a play jam-packed with so many spectacular visuals, lewd lyrics, and belly laughs leaves such a profoundly sobering impression. The comedy does not cloud the social injustice, it amplifies it. In just 70 minutes it is over, the curtains are drawn, but you are left feeling the Bayou still rages on.
The Animals And Children Took To The Streets is on a limited run at the National Theatre until 10 January. For more information on which dates the show will be performed please visit the National Theatre booking website.