‘The Animals and Children Took To The Streets’ presents a dystopian society all the more disconcerting because it is, in essence, true to life. The brilliance of the performers, who deliver their lines against colourful and fast-moving animated backdrops, fuels a spectacle that is painfully real despite its intoxicatingly surrealist form.
Set in the Bayou Mansions, a neglected estate lurking on the outskirts of the ‘city’ - a city that is never given a place name but could quite easily be London -, the play delves into the lives of the oddballs who live and work in the building and on the street below, Red Herring Street. These characters reek with bitterness and sadness as they wax lyrical about the woes of the Bayou, the menacing children who come out to play at night and the total injustice that their lives are fixed from birth to death. Curiously, the ‘mansions’ housekeeper is the only person living in the Bayou who refuses to lose hope. His heart hasn’t been blackened by the monotony and corruption that wafts through the Bayou and ripens the musty air.
Then enters protagonist Agnes Eaves and her (animated) beloved daughter, comedically named Eevee Eaves. Agnes possesses the naive optimism of an outsider. The very fact she is a visitor to the Bayou sets her apart from everyone else who lives there and dramatic irony ensues as it becomes abundantly clear Eaves is the only one who believes in her capacity to bring a dose of joy and civility to the Bayou. The ‘big fish’ on Red Herring Street, a shrill, outspoken woman who owns the Junk Shop below the Bayou that sells literally anything, marks Agnes Eaves as a foolish idealist from the start. It’s hard not to pair this depiction with a scene towards the end of the play, when the housekeeper gesticulates towards two signs describing different types of resolutions and urges the audience to pick one. On the left side of the stage the word realist hangs, and on the right side of the stage the word idealist hangs. Much like Eaves when she first arrives at the Bayou, the crowd, by a large margin, opt for idealism. But the housekeeper walks in the opposite direction, after much teasing and taunting. The housekeeper, who shows unwavering determination to escape from the Bayou - regardless of the fact it will take him several years to accrue the funds needed to buy a ‘one way ticket out of the Bayou... forever’, after he sacrificed his life savings of £777.77p to rescue Eevee Eaves from a sinister government programme to sedate young children - still defies the audience by choosing the realist’s ending.
The housekeeper’s character arch, expressed through this series of events that may seem contradictory at first glance, merits comparison to that of Agnes Eaves, who winds up as downtrodden as the rest of the people touched by the destitute hand of the Bayou. Eaves’ sudden yet predictable decision to return to her comfortable life in the city with her daughter arises from the notion that one individual can’t change a damn thing. But if she had half the persistence that prevents the housekeeper from withering away into the dust that he repetitively sweeps away, who’s to say what kind of difference she could make? On the one hand these two characters demonstrate that focusing on personal ambitions is empowering and makes change feel infinitely more possible, but at the same time the hopelessness that alters Eaves’ outlook by the end of the play demonstrates that regarding yourself as an individual through and through - disconnected from the wider fabric of your community - is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a recipe for giving up before true effort has been expended. Eaves’ fundamental flaw matches that of the audience members who demand an idealist’s ending for their personal viewing pleasure: her character was always more invested in seeing her worldview prevail, in the abstract, than in putting in the hard, exhausting and uncomfortable work required to galvanise a bereft and sorrowful crowd.
The housekeeper, as much as he is self-oriented and therefore limited in his aims, knows the truth, that good things come to those who give blood, sweat and tears and don’t let the zeitgeist of the moment hijack their determination.