At the conclusion of “The Biscuit Tin Revolution,” one of 10 interactive silent films in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Suzanne Andrade stands in front of the screen, pulls out a gingerbread man, and pops it in her mouth.
Her smock becomes part of the film projection, an animation of her alimentary canal. Arrows annotate the cookie’s grand tour of her guts. There he is at her esophagus, her duodenum, and on down through the colon.
Delectably dark and nasty, Between the Devil smiles at the sweetness of childhood, then chews it up and sends it down through the lower intestines, with glee.
The set consists of a piano at stage left and a human-scale white screen. Andrade and Esme Appleton act with Paul Barritt’s films as backdrops, props, and collaborators.
Lillian Henley’s deadpan piano (she plays continually for an hour without a score) and singing (if only there were a little more!) are lovely. Andrade is the writer and co-founder of this young British company, called 1927, along with filmmaker/animator Barritt. And with her scene-stealing eyes, Appleton clearly relishes the role of mime/silent film star.
Not enough can be said about Barritt’s amazing black-and-white films, which appear to be actual films and not CGI. There has to be some cyber work involved to time the clever interactions, leaving just the right amount of room for the actors, but the overall effect is authentic 1920s. You can almost hear the projector whirring.
It would be easy to say this show is Wes Anderson meets Maurice Sendak meets Charlie Chaplin meets Children of the Corn, etc., but Between the Devil is so distinctive and so original, so good-natured and lacking in pretension, it defies the typical anxieties of influence. The child-like wonder permeates the theater.
And the show is 95 percent child-friendly. Not that you’d want to befriend the children in it, like the girl scouts who get badges for “illusion-shattering” — telling other children the Tooth Fairy has no face.
When Andrade and Appleton tell stories in chorus, the effect is chilling.
In the best film, “Sinking Suburbia,” a family shrugs that “little Julie’s playing homeless again, with her fingerless gloves and begging bowl … Sometimes she hangs a red flashlight on the shed and plays crack whore.”
“Sinking Suburbia” continues with two desperate housewives using cut-outs of watering cans to grow increasingly competitive cartoon topiaries. Appleton, who always gets the nastier bits, wins by pulling out a saw and cutting down Andrade’s. Then she produces a bow and plays a dirge on the saw.
The creepiness and humor is artfully ratcheted up throughout the hour, topping out with the last sketch, a slightly Norman Bates-esque bit which takes a thrilling twist.
And one which other reviews keep giving away. If you’re going to the show, don’t read them!
This reviewer has seen a hundred or so Piccolo and Spoleto events over the last 13 festivals. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is easily in the top five, and is the only glimpse of a truly transcendent talent on its way to a big-time audience. It’s like seeing Joshua Bell or Yo-Yo Ma 20 years ago, that is if they were the twins at the end of the hall in The Shining.
Someone, please, get Tim Burton on the phone!
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea • Spoleto Festival USA • $32 • 1 hour 25 min. • May 26 at 12 p.m.; May 26 at 8 p.m.; May 27 at 6 p.m. • Emmett Robinson Theatre, 54 St. Philip St. • (843) 579-3100