The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, BAC, London
Once Bitten, Orange Tree, London
Bea, Soho Theatre, London

A subversive multi-media story set in a stinking slum; a convoluted French farce that hits the mark; and a sickbed drama that dares to deal in humour

The place is wriggling with perverts.

Or so says the narrator, her clown-white face poking out through yellowed net curtains. The kitchen sinks have scabies, and the cats have rabies, she adds. As scuzzy housing goes, Red Herring Street is the pits.

Our slum-tenement storyteller – performance artist Suzanne Andrade in a knotted headscarf – hovers between skid-row grittiness and burlesque. She's like some Berlin cabaret act, accompanied by a mock-baleful pianist. This retro styling combines with animation techniques to make The Animals and Children Took to the Streets an outstanding multimedia piece by the young troupe 1927 (directed by Andrade).

Live actors and art-house cartoons interact as this dystopian satire relates the tale of Red Herring Street's gang of underage underdogs who turn into mini-revolutionaries. They kidnap the mayor's cat, only to be crushed by the authorities. Transported en masse to a sinister sweet- factory-cum-prison camp, the little terrors are fed Granny's Gumdrops (sugar-coated hard drugs) until transformed into brain-dead, model citizens.

Granted, the storyline is a tad scrappy, but this experimental chamber piece looks fabulous. Using angled projection screens, animator Paul Barritt creates mesmeric, flickering cityscapes. The sink estate is a warren of corridors and elevator shafts, its walls crawling with cartoon cockroaches. Andrade and her co-stars (Esme Appleton and Lillian Henley) gawp from windows that open within the screens. At other points, they wander in front, among the animations, jostled by hordes of silhouettes and paper-collage characters who lob their limbs about like boomerangs.

Artistically, this is an international pastiche, combining cute doodles with whirling German Expressionism and Soviet-influenced Constructivism. Think Mr Benn meets The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

The show's satirical snarl is worse than its bite. Still, with targets including arty liberals, it is sharply knowing and all the more subversive for being formatted like darkly twisted kids' fare. Albeit indebted to theatrical predecessors – notably Forkbeard Fantasy and the junk opera Shockheaded Peter – The Animals and Children ... is richly quirky, terrifically ambitious for a tiny company, and superbly executed. Where will 1927 go from here? Theirs is a name to watch.

In the little-known French farce Once Bitten – written by Alfred Hennequin and Alfred Delacour in the 1870s – a superficially respectable lawyer gets his long johns in a twist. David Antrobus's Monsieur Fauvinard and his chum, Mark Frost's Tardivaut, are trying to juggle covert mistresses, a yapping mutt, a suspicious mother-in-law and a larceny case.

I feared that I was replete with farce, after the NT's Alan Ayckbourn revival and the Old Vic's A Flea in Her Ear. The Orange Tree's production isn't as well cast as either, and it occasionally misses a trick. Yet Sam Walter's in-the-round staging proves enjoyable, in part because it feels so homely. In a cosy venue, the actors' comings and goings are at friskily close quarters, with tailcoats and silk frocks brushing the audience's knees. The stagehand perched in one corner is entertainingly DIY too, supplying all the sound effects of slamming doors and muffled barks.

And while Briony Roberts is hammy as the harridan-in-law, Antrobus is droll, shuffling out of a tight corner under a tablecloth. Amy Neilson Smith delights as the hyperventilating maidservant with the memory of a goldfish. And the confusions of identity become gloriously convoluted, abetted by gaga Uncle Gatinet, who veers between lust and narcolepsy.

In Bea, both written and directed by Mick Gordon, the 20-something heroine has been struck down by a chronic debilitating illness. She has severely slurred speech and, we glean, can't wash or feed herself without help. Yet Pippa Nixon's strong-minded Bea is clear about what she wants: she wants her mother, Paula Wilcox's stressed Katherine, to assist her suicide.

This three-hander is about not just euthanasia but our capacity for empathy (limited or not). What's striking is the comedic and non-naturalistic impulses Gordon brings into play. He shows us not the bedridden body, but rather Bea's spirit: the lustily bouncy young woman trapped inside. We first see Nixon springing on her mattress, disco-dancing. And when her new, camp carer walks in, she and Al Weaver's Ray hit it off, chatting (unslurred) and laughing. We only gradually come to see the grim physical reality. En route, what's more, the sickbed drama dares to turn into a farce. Katherine is outraged when she catches Ray administering unprescribed favours.

The snag is that the banter too often verges on the cute. Gordon's aim, clearly, is to make a distressing subject palatable, but too big a spoonful of sugar can make one gag. However, that makes the heartbreak of the closing scenes the more poignant. The final image of release – Nixon's Bea leaping up once again and dancing on the bed – is a life-affirming, and death-affirming, glimpse of ecstasy.

'The Animals and Children Took to the Streets' (020-7223 2223) to 8 Jan; 'Once Bitten' (020-8940 3633) to 5 Feb; 'Bea' (020-7478 0100) to 8 Jan

Next Week:

Kate Bassett wanders the Waterloo tunnels in search of Ivona, Princess of Burgundia, a cross-dressed satire

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn