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Arts Fest: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Arts Festival Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Review by Ali Little

Between the devil and the deep blue sea, 1927
Click to enlarge

Photo credit: 1927

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
1927
Pacific Blue Festival Club: 6, 10–14 March
Southward Theatre, Paraparaumu: 7 March
Masterton Town Hall: 8 March


Mixing live music and action with film and animation Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea explores some dark places in ways that echo Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter and that mad surrealist movie by Buñuel and Dali. Only much funnier.

As the lights go down pianist Lillian Henley, already on stage, plays in the style of a pleasantly manic silent movie sound track. Esme Appleton provides the visual gag that begins and ends the show, enchanting in its simplicity and effectiveness. Then Suzanne Andrade enunciates in vowels more rounded than any well-bred schoolgirl could possibly aspire to, declaring - declaiming - the show's basic premise: that between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea are some dark dark places, which will be explored for our edification in ten terrible tales.

And terrible they are, in the most wonderful way. Gingerbread men riot and are horribly tortured for our pleasure, bad things happen to grandmothers, babies, cats and unfortunate lodgers. Demonic children speak in wonderfully chilling synchronisation about the unfortunate fates of any who displease them, housewives compete for domestic perfection and are suitably punished. Appleton and Andrade's characters spark off each other, and Henley's music enhances the stylish black and white movie aesthetic throughout, including when she breaks into song and shares her own dark whimsical tale.

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Paul Barritt is responsible for the film and animations which are an integral part of the performance. As in Ship Songs, the show which precedes Between in the same venue for some nights of the Festival, the performers interact with their screen. However this show goes much further. In the film sequences performers move smoothly from stage to screen to stage, creating a strange confusion between the real and unreal. The animations are crazy clever, the febrile imaginings of a particularly fiendish schoolchild. There is a most wonderful dream-poem sequence bought to life in sketches reminiscent of Ronald Searle, with the text adapted just a little to play to a New Zealand audience.

The show originally debuted at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe, where it won multiple awards including the Fringe First. Since then it has toured, including to the States, Australia and Singapore. Its strange mix of music, mime, horror, crackly film and plumily-accented verse have garnered much critical approval, sometimes from some very surprised critics. If you have ever been forced to endure bad poetry, or joyless experimental theatre that makes no sense at all, you deserve to go to Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Balm to any soul ever so tortured, it gleefully mocks and subverts with perfect comic style.

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Press releases: New NZIAF Nightclub on the Wellington Waterfront, NZIAF 2010 Programme to the Wellington Region
Arts Festival website: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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