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

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
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.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup