Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
January 11, 2008
The British theatre company 1927's debut show, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, is a mix between live performance, animation and film, most of which is set to the musical stylings of the delightful piano-playing Lillian Henley. We are greeted with her key tinkling as we enter the theatre, and she plays throughout the performance as calmly and comfortably as if she were one of the beams holding up the ceiling in P.S. 122's space.
After a quick blackout we are treated to ten stories—scenelets, really—about death, dying, and the devil. Some of them are funny. Some of them are morbid. Some of them are downright sinister. All of the scenes are crisp and expertly performed by Suzanne Andrade, whose wryness and confidence reminded me of a theatrical Angelica Huston, and the bewitching Esme Appleton, with Henley throwing in a comment or two and finally getting a story all to herself.
Of all the various characters they play, the audience favorite was definitely a set of sinister twins who delight in torturing whomever unfortunately happens to be in their path. At one point the twins invite an audience member (not a plant that I could tell) on stage to "play" with them, and I think I'm not alone when I say the audience was a teensy bit nervous about his safety. (He was safely returned to us and given a parting gift for being game enough to go behind the screen with them.)
The real star of this piece, however, is the animation. Some of the scenes shown on the center stage white screen are wholly animated and some are a mix of Andrade and Appleton interacting with the animation, but all of them are captivating. It is clear, given the care, detail, and daydream whimsy of Paul Barritt, their creator, that he has a special place in his heart for animation. I could've watched his work all evening.
And speaking of care and detail, these qualities are present in every aspect of each moment of each story. The choreography, acting, costumes (supplied by Appleton), writing, and direction of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea are appropriate, relevant, and precise. Although originally developed at London's Battersea Arts Center, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea still seems fresh and fun while demonstrating the result of taking the time to tell a story, however short it may be, the right way—that is, to captivate the audience.
The only downside to Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is its length. Usually I feel like ten minutes could be shaved off most anything, but in this show's case it was quite the opposite. Although billed at over an hour, I felt like we were just getting our feet wet when it was all over.
If you don't find death even remotely humorous, this is not the show for you. If you have a sense of gallows humor, then be sure to catch Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.