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

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
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.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments