Paper Cinema's The Odyssey is a live silent-film style production of the Homeric epic performed with cardboard puppets, projections and a live ensemble. Returning to the BAC from a nationwide tour, here is another chance for Londoners to see something truly unique and memorable.
Projectionists Nicholas Rawling and Imogen Charleston deftly work their cardboard cut-outs and lighting rigs to produce a non-stop live animation. With quick movement and alacrity, a condensed version of The Odyssey is vividly brought to life in stunning fashion. A few stray fingers on screen here and there only add to the energy of a live performance that is fluid and vital in its presentation.
It is a breath-taking achievement, made all the more impressive by genuinely funny and moving storytelling. The Odyssey is not just the frame for Paper Cinema’s charms but rather, is presented as a poignant romance with adorable moments and very funny self-aware anachronisms. As a DIY piece it is often twee but never cloyingly cute: a well-crafted tone matches the sincerity of the performance.
The quick thinking and skill of the projectionists is at the very least matched, if not surpassed by the company’s musicians. In a style similar to that of silent films, the ensemble (consisting of Christopher Reed, Hazel Mills and Quinta) play along with the developing story on screen, often improvising their sound effects and music. They each play many instruments, greatly adding a sense of levity (Telemachus’ playful voyage on a motorcycle is handled wonderfully with the help of a power drill and microphone) and elevating the overall production.
Some of the most impressive moments come from a clever use of flashbacks and glimpses inside the characters’ minds. Here, the projectionists use two cameras to superimpose a fuzzy memory onto characters’ faces. However, these scenes of longing are often slightly too long, and at times it is easy to forget the craft involved. Still, their flawless enactment highlights the degree of expertise and control the projectionists have over this medium.
Such talent across a company, honed by their recent tour, is a rarity. Paper Cinema returns triumphantly from its voyage through UK venues and manages what many aspire to and few achieve. It is a genuinely astounding production twinned with a beautifully told story, epic in its scope and humble in its presentation. A real treat.