Theater archives

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea


Come and play with us!” This invitation from the stage comes late in the performance, when two troublesome girls in whiteface scour the audience, hoping to find a surrogate grandmother. Their request articulates the ethos of this entire elegant production, devised by a new British company called 1927.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea consists of playful storybook “vignettes” that combine original animation and film with mime, cabaret, and poetic narrative. Or, as the narrator puts it: “ten strange stories and terrible tales that hail from neither here nor there, neither A nor B,” but “the space in between.” Building on superbly crafted visuals by Paul Barritt, the performers interact precisely with black-and-white images projected onto a large upstage screen—inserting themselves into books, falling from tall buildings, disappearing into glades.

1927’s vintage aesthetic draws from silent film, Dada, Edward Gorey–style caricature, and moving pictures tinged with psychedelia and the gothic. Many sequences begin as Victorian children’s stories about families and playmates, recited and sung by the plummy-accented performers (Suzanne Andrade, Lillian Henley, Esme Appleton). Gradually, these tales slide into strangeness, fantasy, and terror. A gingerbread men’s revolution makes the most delightfully fanciful scene, in which a reviled pastry chef gets decapitated as comeuppance. In fact, every one of these offbeat sequences is beautiful and inventive. A few, however, are too similar in tone; even in a short hour-long piece, a certain dullness intertwines with the group’s refinement and restraint. Regardless, 1927 throws a charming party, and audiences would do well to accept the invitation.