Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin
The Paper Cinema started out in 2004, founded by Nicholas Rawling, Imogen Charleston and Christopher Reed operating as an ensemble creating collaborative performance work. The Odyssey features an ensemble of five incredibly talented musicians andpuppeteers/animators to create a feature length live animation.
The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey is ineffable, but for the purposes of this review I will attempt to capture its mystery and wonder into words.
The stage is set with billowing sheets creating a sail-like effect on either side of a projection screen, and in front of that screen facing away from the audience are the creators of the spectacle. Christopher Reed heads up a three-piece ensemble of multi-instrumentalists, with Francesca Simmons and Hazel Mills, who perform an original orchestrated score, incorporating all sound effects (in ingenious ways, particularly how to create a speedboat engine sound from a violin). The music is fantastic, an original score that captures and compliments each moment of the story with such synchronization it was easy to forget it was being performed live.
Meanwhile, the puppeteers use multiple cameras and lighting effects to project onto the screen their 2D animations, and ring the story to life. Essentially you are watching a Disney-like film being created in front of you, but better. The drawings are beautifully simple pen-and-ink drawing, cut-out, with expressive details for each character from the heavy brow of Odysseus to the star on Peneleope’s head. The ingenuity of the storytelling through these expressive drawings is breathtaking with some beautiful moments, creating a baying crowd of wolves representing Penelope’s suitors in Odysseus’ absence, and a 1980s power ballad homage as Odysseus’ son streaks away on a motorcycle.
The story of The Odyssey is a complex one, and being only vaguely familiar with the plot there were some moments of confusion about what exactly was going on, but the method in which the story was being told made those moments still wondrous. It was interesting that Paper Cinema took an epic tale of myth, gods and monsters and brought it down to the intimate level of an estranged father, his searching son and his beleaguered wife waiting for his return. This brought the scale of The Odyssey down to the intimacy of the family and the epic monsters around them were more like distractions separating them.
The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey has been touring since the beginning of October and the sold-out audience at Contact, Manchester was scheduled to be the final date on this tour. However, luckily it has been invited back to BAC in February 2013. I highly recommend you catch it while you can, it is truly a one-off experience.