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Q&A: Cat And Mouse - Letting Animation Loose With Paul Barritt

Animator, illustrator, and co-founder of innovative theatre company 1927, Paul Barritt's new show Cat And Mouse takes place at Village Underground on 8 and 9 June and Latitude Festival 13 – 16 July. We caught up with Paul to ask him more about the project, which combines animation with live music and performance, marking Village Underground's first in-house production.

Eli Goldstone: Hi Paul, your show Cat and Mouse is inspired by the music of Harry Partch and George Herriman’s Krazy Kat – who was George Herriman and what is Krazy Kat?

Paul Barritt: George Herriman was a comic strip artist working in the very early decades of the twentieth century. In many way he was one of the originators of the “Cat and Mouse” style of cartoon shenanigans. Within this “genre” we can include anything that plays in someway with the Hunter/Prey dichotomy. So it’s not only Tom and Jerry but also Roadrunner and Wile E Coyote would certainly count, even Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Krazy Kat was really at the beginning of this and one of the reasons why it works is that is subverts the natural order of things. So in Krazy Kat it is Ignatz Mouse that is the aggressor and it is Krazy Kat that is the passive loving one, in fact Krazy is in love with Ignatz. In its own way the whole notion of Cat and Mouse has always been subversive and has always been used as a tool for poking fun at figures of Power. This is really all I have taken from the Herriman strip, also I have bounced off of a few aesthetic springboards and included the Brick!(Ignatz ends nearly all Krazy Kat strips by throwing a brick at Krazy’s head!!)

Eli: In what ways will the action transcend the screen and reach the audience?

Paul: Well to start with there is a live band of dogs playing cartoon style music, there is also a narrator that leads you through the twisted journey. She represents the Law. There will also be a Judgement, in which the audience can decide upon who to condemn and who to set free. Will it be the Cat or will it be the Mouse?

Eli: With a combination of music, animation, and live action theatre, does running your shows sometimes feel like running a circus?

Paul: Yes it has always been a bit like that. I’ve always felt that theatre, or theatrical events like this one, should be a hybrid of things. It is the ultimate hybrid art form. It should be a circus and it should always be unexpected. 

Eli: This is Village Underground’s first foray into producing theatre – did that happen naturally as you were in discussions for using the space?

Paul: It did happen naturally. Glenn asked me if I had any projects and I mentioned this one so we rolled with it. It makes sense really as Village Underground is a gig venue and this show is very much like a theatrical gig. 

Eli: Your work with 1927 seems to me to be like punk in the way it disrupts a traditional theatre-going experience. What excites you about devising shows like yours?

Paul: One of the problems we need to overcome in the artistic world is categories. Why should anything really be categorised? Why does it need to be called “theatre” at all? With 1927 we always had issues with explaining what it is we do... Really I’m just interested in making what I make without pigeonholing it. The Cat and Mouse show is actually a load of animations with music and theatrics, a mishmash of things. That is what excites me. It’s kind of like a “Happening”, you just have to get down there and see for yourself... the marketing of it can only go so far. I’m into that. Some of the best things you see are things you happen upon and didn’t expect, things you weren’t entirely sure what they were about. Unfortunately the nature of a hyper-marketed scene is that less risks are taken. Everyone is told exactly what to expect before they even buy a ticket. 

Eli: How is technology forcing theatre to evolve?

Paul: The most important thing that technology is bringing to the theatre is different minds. I am an animator, not a theatre maker. It just happens that most of my animations are shown in a very live and theatrical context. It allows a whole new sector of visual artists new possibilities to present their work theatrically. For me this is really important for both theatre and animation. Animation is usually viewed on a screen in someone’s bedroom. I want to break with this, get people out of the house, down to a venue like VU to watch a load of mad animated stuff, have some beers with their mates and have a laugh. Life’s too short to be cooped up inside peering into a dismal little screen! Animation should be let loose! I can see this happening more and more the simpler and cheaper the tech gets, already lots of young animators are interested in pushing it out into something different. So not only might it make theatre evolve it might also make cinema evolve too!!!

Eli: Is Cat and Mouse an allegorical tale?

Paul: The very nature of the Cat and Mouse thing is always allegorical. The Cat and the Mouse are only ever human. It is a lens through which we can view humankind’s inhumanity to humankind. Hopefully it allows us to view it at a remove and thus think on it a little...

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