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“It’s a concept album, on stage, with animation”. An interview with Paul Barritt

3 June 2017 Will Rathbone

Paul Barritt, co-founder of multi award-winning theatre company 1927, is an illustrator and theatre-maker whose distinctive style will be instantly familiar to anyone lucky enough to have been to one of their shows. The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, their breakthrough show, took the National Theatre by storm before Golem, a co-production with the Young Vic, led to their first West End transfer. Both shows have subsequently toured successfully both in the UK and internationally. We spoke to Paul as he prepares for his latest show, Cat & Mouse, a joint production with Shoreditch’s Village Underground.

London Calling: Hi Paul, thanks very much for speaking to us. How are rehearsals going?
Paul Barritt: Good! The music’s already there, we’re just shoehorning me into the band, and we’ve got to work out a few extra bits and bobs for the end. It’s looking good though! I really think it’s going to be good.


Image courtesy of Paul Barritt
 
LC: Could you tell us a little bit about Cat & Mouse?
PB: It actually started in Germany. Beate Schüler, a friend of mine, contacted me and asked if I wanted to do some work for a German ensemble. So I did these animations for them based on Krazy Kat [an early 20th century cartoon strip by cartoonist George Herriman that appeared in the New York Evening Journal. It’s blend of playful characters, offbeat surrealism and poetic dialogue won it many plaudits, and it is often cited as an inspiration for animators and illustrators today].
 
So that’s how it came about. I’ve always liked Krazy Kat, but its not paying homage to George Herriman – it’s just a starting point. The original ensemble just did three shows and that was it. I still had all these films on a hard drive, and I thought I’d get a show together rather than just have them sitting there.
 
It’s a mish-mash of lots of cat and mouse cartoons, with a live band, some narration, and a kind of theatrical conceit. That’s basically it – cartoons and live music. A lot of the stuff from Golem has bled into it, as I was making Cat & Mouse at the same tame. The ills of capitalism! You can talk about the ills of capitalism till the cows come home: working out what to do about it is the difficult thing.
 
LC: So it’s a real crossover of styles?
PB: Yes - it will be. Village Underground is a gig venue really, so it’s actually very appropriate. It feels geared for a live show like this. It’s edgy; I like it. It made sense to get a live band because of this, and then we’ve also got costumes, dog masks, and a cool narrator figure. There’s a bit of a narrative, if you really look for it! You could think of it as a theatrical gig. It’s a concept album, on stage, with animation.


Image Credit: Matt Humphrey
 
LC: There’s nothing we’ve seen that’s quite like a 1927 show. Did you start out wanting to create your own niche? How did it come about?
PB: Well, I’m an animator, and Sue’s a theatre-maker, and we really just started working in a live context straight away. I’d made a few short films earlier on, but then I was just straight onto that live context. 1927 developed out of that, and because we come from different skill sets it works together. I had thought about theatre before – it was in the back of my mind – then as soon as we met, straight away, we said: “we can do shows”. There was never anything else really.
 
LC: Why are 1927 called 1927?
PB: That’s when the first talking film came out. It’s all connected. A lot of 1927 stuff – even this show, Cat & Mouse – is like a silent film. The shows are like films with a live score – which is what silent film itself was like. The acting style, and the theatricality of the whole thing, completely comes from silent film; all the animations look like old-school animations. Back in the day film was very theatrical – you had a live band playing, and sometimes you’d have comedians or MCs coming on between films. Cinema started out in the theatre and we’re taking it back there a bit.
 
LC: Are there any dream collaborations you’d like to have happen?
PB: Oooh, I don’t know. I saw a poster for Aphex Twin earlier – I used to quite like him when I was younger! I went to see a dance show the other day, and thought doing something with dance would be really good. The thing is, 1927 have such a good collaboration going that we’re almost sorted for that really!


Image Credit: Matt Humphrey
 
LC: What projects have you got in the pipeline?
PB: We’re supposed to be on a sabbatical! So after I’ve finished this show, I’m going to take a break. I need to finish doing up my house, and then move to Berlin. Then I wouldn’t mind making a short film, and we’ll definitely make a new 1927 show at some point. We’re planning something, but we’re not quite sure what it is yet. We’re having a fallow period!
 
LC: Finally, what are your cultural highlights at the moment?
PB: Alan Moore’s Jerusalem is absolutely amazing – I can‘t recommend it enough. It’s his masterpiece – you should go and read it. Alasdair Gray has an exhibition, Life in Pictures, coming to London too that I’d like to go and see.
 
Cat & Mouse is at Village Underground from June 8-9. Tickets are £21. It will also be at Latitude Festival, July 13-16.

 
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