Roots at Church Hill Theatre is a multi-media production from 1927, a company that merges theatre with animation, and here, Roots, Stories From a Simpler Time, takes for its source material old folk-stories and jokes. Sitting on a shelf in the British Library is a book called. “The Aarne index” and it has categorised thousands of these stories that give us a glimpse into the cultural thought processes of other times, and often other cultures (although many of these stories do share cross culture similarities).
Taking these old folk-lore stories is always going to be a difficult task for any modern production company as the casual cruelty of many of them can be very disturbing. There is also of course the fact that a lot of these stories do not now fit in well with out modern and often sanitised politically correct world views. Many tales are of course allegorical in nature and it is surprising how many of them still have relevance in our contemporary world.
1927 the company was founded in 2005 by animator & illustrator Paul Barritt, and writer & performer Suzanne Andrade and there is no clear definition of how to describe their work, and in particular Roots, and that is a good thing. This production is a mixture of many “roots” and old time music hall and vaudeville are never far from home here as the stories tonight often had that feel of the absurd to them. The vintage setting of the Churchill Theatre itself was also perfect for this type of show atmosphere. This feeling of the past though is always contrasting with the timed to the second modern media visuals behind us on screen, and some stories reminded me graphic wise of those experimental Czech animators of the early to mid 20th century who painted their animation directly onto film cells one by one. At other times there was that feel of “Monty Python” both in visuals and performance of the absurd style.
Sound is an important part of this production and the range of instruments and materials used to achieve a sound that is connected in some way to the story is interesting. We need of course not forget the performers themselves who bring life to these old stories whilst at the same time being exactly where they should be on stage to match up with the graphic projections. Roots is an odd collection of tales and it wisely makes no attempt to blunt their original themes and stories of a very hungry and fat cat, a lonely man, a pious and foolish King, simple human greed and many more make up our arc of tales today.
Roots is a production with obviously much pre-production thought given to its planning and eventual on stage presentation (the show’s European premiere is at this year’s EIF) but, despite all of this, it just was not engaging with me much at a personal level, and I honestly don’t know why this was the case as other people in the audience seemed delighted and enchanted with the show. The story of the little ant and her mouse I did however find charming.
You can find out more about this company on their website at https://www.19-27.co.uk/
Church Hill Theatre
Review by Tom King