Suzanne Andrade likes telling stories. For more than a decade now, 1927, the company the writer and director runs with animator and designer Paul Barritt, co-director Esme Appleton and composer Lillian Henley has been a purveyor of archly realised vintage entertainment that draws from gothic horror and silent films to make deliciously devilish concoctions of something charmingly wicked.
This is certainly the case with Roots, which, after a few years doing ever-expanding projects, sees 1927 get back to basics with a show that forms part of Edinburgh International Festival’s You Are Hear strand when it opens this weekend.
“It’s a little show,” says Andrade of Roots, which uses little known folk tales as source material. “I spent a lot of time in the British Library, where they have a comprehensive collection of pretty much every folk tale there’s ever been. I started looking at them at random, picking out any that appealed, and writing down little synopses of each, just a couple of lines, and it became this little writing exercise.
“I didn’t know where it was going or where it would end up, but I was reading Angela Carter and Italo Calvino’s folk tales at the same time, and I started shaping them. I thought a pattern or a theme might emerge, but I’m not sure one has. I wasn’t trying to say something or shoehorn in some kind of message. It’s just a random collection of stories, some of which are weird, some of which are silly, some of which are shaggy-dog stories and really dark and quite strange, and some of which are the ones I kept being attracted to, which are the folk-jokes, the one-liners. It was all very liberating.”
Originally sired on the spoken-word cabaret circuit, 1927 first came to prominence in 2007, when their first show, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, was an Edinburgh Festival Fringe hit, winning a Herald Angel award and going on to tour the world. Back then, 1927 was a DIY operation, with a sheet for a screen and a rickety piano accompanying the various monologues and black and white films that made for a very English form of bleakly comic expressionist grotesquery.
Following The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, 1927 created the much larger The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, which they brought to Edinburgh as part of the Manipulate festival of visual theatre. The last time they were in Edinburgh was in 2015 with their take on Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, created on a grand scale in collaboration with Australian wunderkind Barrie Kosky. Since then, 1927 has become an Arts Council England supported company. Things have changed personally as well.
“I suppose this is a bit of a transitionary period,” says Andrade, on a break from painting her garden fence. “Things have moved on. There are babies, houses, new partners, and all these other things to consider. Things moved super-fast after we did Edinburgh the first time with Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, and after everything we’ve done since, I think we really felt the need to come back for a group cuddle and do something more intimate. Esme and I haven’t been onstage for years, so doing Roots is a nice way of getting back to working like that again. It feels like a direct link to our past, and reminds ourselves who we are.”
Roots, Edinburgh International Festival @ Church Hill Theatre, preview August 9, 7.30-8.40pm, August 10-25 (not 14 or 21), 7.30-8.40pm, August 11, 15, 17, 22, 24, 3-4.10pm.
The Herald, August 7th 2019