As I found myself settling into my seat at the historic Wilton’s Music Hall, I registered a strange feeling. Perhaps it was the humdrum of excited, hushed voices that swept the hall or maybe it was the fact that we were all gathered here, together, to listen to some folk tales. However, what followed next completely disarmed me (in a good way) and for the next hour, I surrendered myself to the lure of a good story. Independent performance company 1927’S Roots is a playful, multi-faceted exploration of stories from a simpler time. Written and directed by Suzanne Andrade with Paul Barritt on animation and design, the show is an anthology of ancient folk tales from the Aarne index which has categorized and numbered thousands of stories from all over the world. 1927’s trademark aesthetic combines performance, music and animation to craft a unique experience wherein we witness stories of different flavours – from the gruesome and the mysterious to the virtuous and satirical – as well as different genres and cultural backgrounds.
The show presents a series of different folktakes in quick succession, beginning with one of a peculiar cat with a voracious appetite. This is followed by the tale of the most unlucky man in the world, a woman with three ordinary wishes, the wonderful yet brief affair between an ant and a mouse, amongst others. Condensing these stories to these brief summaries doesn’t do justice to the wonderfully whimsical presentation by 1927, that draws upon its formidable ensemble of creative performers who dance, mime, act and play instruments with effortless ease.
These are David Insua-Cao, Francesca Simmons, Philippa Hambly and Hannah Miller who blend live music, spoken dialogue and pre-recorded narration to not just embody the characters of the stories, but establish an atmospheric palette and rhythm grounded in the story’s cultural origins, which are further complemented by Sarah Munro’s costume design. From Peruvian prayer boxes, donkeys jaws, violins and musical saws, the sonic landscape composed by Lillian Henley draws you in completely and switches dynamically with each story. Barritt’s stellar animation and video design crafts the visual aesthetic and makes great use of the Wilton’s Music Hall’s end-on staging.
Describing the devising process, Andrade says they found stories under different categories in the Aarne index, which they rewrote into shorter, terse versions that were read out to friends and family to gauge their response. This intimate sharing of stories, emotions and ideas continued in the work, when the company invited their friends and family to read these stories out loud in their own voice, their unique rhythm and delivery of the text informing much of the intention and approach the company adopted to bring that story to life on stage. The dramaturgy of intimate storytelling comes through strongly in the artistic and technical choices made by the company, making for a one-of-a-kind experience that is hard to put into words. The eclectic choice of stories, including those that bring out the tragic, twisted and tumultuous shades of humanity to ones that celebrate the absurd, humorous and indulgent moments, is what makes this a joyous evening.
You can watch Roots at Wilton’s Music Hall E1 8JB till 30th October. Learn more and book your tickets at https://wiltons.org.uk/whatson/693-roots
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 7th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★