Roots – HOME, Manchester

Earlier this year, 1927 Productions thrilled HOME’s audiences with The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, which is one of the best shows I have seen this year. Their unique way of storytelling inventively combines traditional theatre with animations and live music.

In Roots, 1927 use these techniques to tell a series of folk-tales that derive from the Aarne Index in the British Library. The stories they tell are Neil Gaiman-eque; cleverly twisted and distorted to make familiar tales delightfully dark, and quite sinister.

1927 Productions Roots HOME Manchester Theatre Review
The Unremarkable Woman. Picture Credit – Gaelle Beri.

For a Christmas production, these peculiar stories are anything but festive, which adds to their charm. Instead, they provide a gratifying antidote to the commercialisation of Christmas. With a wide array of tales on offer, there is something that will appeal to most ages. Roots is suitable for children aged 8 and over.

My favourite story of the collection involves a fat cat, who decides to eat the entire world; starting with a bowl of porridge, before moving on to its owner and the postman. Resembling a twisted version of the nursery rhyme, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, this tale gets more amusing as it gets more absurd. With animations of dancing cats, attired in top hat and tails, complete with canes, this offers a weird dystopia, where cats rule the world. As a cat owner myself, I will definitely sleep with one eye open in the future!

I also enjoyed a tale of a man living with poverty, who is personified into a real character wearing a ‘Keep Calm and Party On’ t-shirt, and is the worst housemate on earth. With eight radiators on all day, he clocks up the electric meter, without paying a penny for rent. The young man takes desperate measures to get rid of Poverty, before finding that Wealth is an even worse tenant. Another brilliant story is The Luckless Man, who genuinely has the worst luck in the world.

1927 Productions Roots HOME Manchester Theatre Review
The fat cat eating the postman. Picture Credit – Gaelle Beri.

These outlandish stories perfectly match Paul Barritt‘s stunning, trademark style of animation. A lot of his designs have a sepia wash to them, indicating grim realism, where wallpaper hangs off the walls. Others are black and white, evoking a sense of film noir. They are always cinematic in scope, and are so beautifully rendered that they easily transport you into this distorted world, making you forget that it’s animated.

The actors seamlessly interact with the animations. Their movements are perfectly choreographed so that they are synchronised with the images on screen. It takes remarkable skill and precision to be able to interact with projections in this way. However, 1927 Productions make it look effortless. Although there is not as much interaction in Roots as there was in Golem or The Animals and Children Took to the Street, it is still jaw-dropping to see a computer generated fly fall into an actor’s cup in The Luckless Man.

Alongside the two actors, Francesca Simmons and Dave Insua-Cao provide musical accompaniments to the performance. Breaking away from the piano music of previous 1927 productions, the pair play a staggering array of musical instruments. These range from the ordinary violin and keyboard, to more unconventional saws, Peruvian prayer boxes, and donkey’s jaws, creating a fantastic, other-wordly musical score that harks back to the era of silent movies.

1927 Productions Roots HOME Manchester Theatre Review
Picture Credit – Gaelle Beri.

I am a huge fan of 1927 Productions. Their shows are always technically flawless, perfectly combining performance with sublime animations and fantastic live music. They always leave me feeling awestruck and thoroughly entertained. I have been excitedly waiting to watch Roots for months, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. It is an excellent treat and a brilliant alternative Christmas present!

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Roots runs at HOME until 30th December. For more information, or to buy tickets, please visit their website here.

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