Sunday, February 10, 2008
Created by the new British theater company 1927, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea combines live music, performance and storytelling with films and animations. Using the aesthetic of silent film, a series of comic vignettes unfold in which the performers interact with the animations.
The dark whimsy presented in these ten vignettes is fun for the whole family.
Reviewed by Ellen Wernecke
A cursory description of "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" would only pigeonhole it as the ur-Fringe show: A combination of hand-drawn animation, silent-movie acting and live vaudeville piano, invoking fairy tales and Satan, it seems (on paper) like the kind of show destined to stay on the edges of popular theatre, despite its award as the Best of Edinburgh at last year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. But no one who caught "Between the Devil..." at its short stay at PS122 would have described it as morbid or Gothic; even though it occasionally touches those poles, this deeply weird show was far more funny than creepy.
The show, created by the performance group 1927 (actresses Suzanne Andrade and Esme Appleton are seen on stage, with Lillian Henley at the piano, and filmmaker and co-director Paul Barritt behind the scenes), consists of 10 "terrible tales" told through film and live acting, often simultaneously. The stories aren't related, although two of them are narrated by very similar pairs of creepy sisters. Some deal directly with death, as in the opening vignette, "The Nine Lives of Choo Choo le Chat," which depicts how each of the nine lives of an unlucky cat ended. Others apply the show's magical-realist logic to subjects like door-to-door salesmen ("Sinking Suburbia") and the allure of the deep fryer ("Home Sweet Home").
These vignettes feel (and thanks to Henley's accompaniment, sound) like a series of lost shorts unearthed from a five-cent carnival booth. Andrade and Appleton have the faces and mannerisms of silent-movie actresses, and perform with impeccable timing to the films shown behind (and around) them. But the night's funniest gag was the kidnapping of an audience member to pose as "Grandma," who is dressed up by the actresses and then taken behind the screen as the film shows the tortures two sisters enact on her. Even without that participatory interlude, "Between the Devil..." is a lively and inventive little show which, pending 1927's world tour, will hopefully gain a larger audience than Fringe-goers.