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The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey, Battersea Arts Centre

Devised by Nicholas Rawling, Imogen Charleston, Caroline Williams, Irena Stratieva, Christopher Reed, Ed Dowie, Quinta and Matthew Brown

Pros: The combination of hand drawn and carefully cut out puppets with 21st century technology produces an intriguing take on the ancient art of paper and shadow puppetry.

Cons: None to speak of but I think Paper Cinema are going to have to think hard about how they will top this one.

Our Verdict: A must see! The performers utilise their attention to detail and their ability to think outside the box to produce a top rate animated film live on stage.

Courtesy of Paper Cinema

This show is something very special – a play that redefines theatre, cinema and puppetry. Paper Cinema have reinterpreted Odysseus’ somewhat tragic tale and transformed it into a puppet show with the most spectacular surprises and variations. The audience are greeted by a stylistic ship with cloth hung like sails which gives an ancient marine feel to the space. Other than that there is no set to speak of, one side is dedicated to musical instruments, the other to technology – two camcorders, an effects desk and a projector. The cast are dressed symbolically, with their striped clothing giving the feel of sailors at sea and Nicholas Rawling’s beard giving the impression of Odysseus himself.

The show starts with the lowering of a sail, which acts as the projector screen that is vital to this show and then Rawling begins on a masterstroke. He introduces the audience to the characters by drawing them beautifully under the watchful eyes of his audience as his work in progress is projected onto this huge screen. What a way to start a show! Rawling left me open mouthed with his sketched art and I was left wondering how on earth that was going to be topped! And then the rest of the show happened…

Two puppeteers meticulously utilise what must be over one hundred hand drawn illustrations of people, houses, boats and gods to create scenes of drama and suspense which is all projected from two small camcorders onto a ship’s sail. The black sticks used to hold them up to camera is a simple technique, reminding me of those Victorian paper theatres you get from old toy shops. They are delicately manoeuvred throughout the show, smooth, slow and specific. The movements were so lifelike I’m sure I saw Penelope blink at one point and the puppeteers hands are almost balletic.

The three musicians produce perfect music to set the scenes (terrific musical director Christopher Reed) and utilise unlikely everyday objects to create complex sound effects. Their live performance in itself is something worth watching.

All five of the ensemble are well-practiced. They’re perfectly timed and in sync with one another, swapping roles and navigating the stage smoothly. The show had no flaws except when the microphone for the electric drill (representing a motorbike) didn’t work which didn’t do anything to detract from the overall experience. The performance was also about the right length, at seventy five minutes with no interval

So often I see experimental theatre that either fails to produce good results or isn’t really that experimental but this was something I didn’t expect and I was very pleasantly surprised at the result. If you do one thing this month, go see this!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below! 

The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey runs at The Battersea Arts Centre until 9th March 2013.
Box Office: 020 7223 2223 or book online at https://www.bac.org.uk/content/16166/see_whats_on/current_shows/cook_up/the_paper_cinemas_odyssey

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