Technically, this might not be theatre. A group of designers, puppeteers and musicians create live animation and puppetry, but the projected images are as clear as the inner workings, placed as they are front and centre. Whatever it is, it looks like a fun journey. With billowing screens, the stage is set to sail on a classic myth, told in a new way that feels old.
Black and white drawings, simple but beautiful, are passed in front of a camera, delivering all the dynamism and great storytelling you’d expect from the animated form — except these images are paper cut-outs, manipulated by two skilled artists. They must have played with their toys for hours, because the way detail comes in and out of focus, like a real film, is one of the stand out aspects of the show.
Let’s not go over what The Odyssey is about, because Paper Cinema aren’t too explicit either. So if you’re not familiar it might be a struggle to follow the plot, but it shouldn’t diminish your enjoyment of the skill at work. And anyway, it’s quite long apparently. Instead, here are some of the best bits.
Penelope’s suitors are portrayed as slavering wolves, initially created out of free-flowing watery ink — shadowy and menacing. Odysseus’s descent into Hades is marked by an impressive camera effect where everything goes…wibbly wobbly. There’s probably a technical term. The sound of a motorbike (there may have been Harley’s in Ancient times…) is made by a drill pressed up against the mic by a moody-looking musician donning shades.
It’s all quite brilliant. Smooth as any edited film you could hope to see, with the added excitement that it could all go horribly wrong. They also have incredible conviction — lesser skilled companies might have self-knowingly mocked the form with flimsy constructs, but Paper Cinema are confident that they’re providing a first-rate cinematic/theatrical experience. And they do.
You can also doodle your own Odyssey in the Battersea Arts Centre foyer — the final image in the gallery above shows some examples we snapped. Run, it’s the Sirens!
All images by Jose Farinha, except number 6 which is by Tim Macavoy.