Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Paper Cinema

A couple of weeks ago I went to see a live re-telling of the Odyssey by the Paper Cinema, at the Contact Theatre in Manchester. I tagged along with one of my tutors and a group of first years, but it was so full that I had to squeeze in a seat on my own. However, there wasn't a moment of boredom once the show began. It was stunning!

I wasn't sure what to expect, as I'd never heard about them before or seen any of their work, but I was intrigued by a short video about them, which, teasingly, gave very little away.
“The Paper Cinema is an illustrated song, a shadow, a smoke, a mirror, a puppet show, a cinema show, side show, magic show, a show and tell, a show off. It exists in the meaning of live music and live drawings.
Best to see The Paper Cinema with your own eyes…”
-The Paper Cinema 

Here is a trailer for the show. In my opinion, it doesn't quite do the quality of the live experience justice, but it introduces the viewer to the set-up: there are puppeteers who control the cut-out characters and scenery in front of a camera, which is projected live onto the main screen above the stage, while a team of 3 musicians perform live music and vocals for the soundtrack and sound effects. One of the puppeteers drew characters live during the opening sequence as well.

There wasn't a single part of the performance that didn't seem to require incredible talent to pull it off, especially as the show was so long (their first feature length story) and no visible mistakes were made. The puppeteers, as well as organising the many cut-outs that were used, had to carefully manage the composition of the images in the camera shot (a few times I spotted them looking up at the big screen to check the positioning was ok). They used a variety of maneuvers to make transitions between the different puppets in the shot, e.g. moving cut-outs of houses with windows in them closer to the camera so it zoomed into the window and framed a view of different puppets behind it.

As well as focusing on the puppets from a 2d perspective, there were times when the elements became more 3d, e.g. a man shot an arrow into a target, which was then rotated to show an arrow sticking through the card the target was made from. Although details like that did give the show a little more visual variety, it seemed impractical and unnecessary to include more; the 2d set-up was already impressive enough.

And of course, it wouldn't have worked anywhere near as well without the soundtrack and sound effects. The main musical elements were guitar, keyboard and violin. The violinist was also a vocalist and could play a saw; the keyboardist was the main vocalist and could play the drums: and the guitarist had a variety of pedals to layer music during the more dramatic scenes. I'm sure I've forgotten other bits and pieces. A few times during the show I found myself distracted from the events on screen by the musicians; it was hard to believe just the three of them could create the sounds and music that they did. The main vocalist I found particularly fascinating because of the diverse quality of her voice; how she could provide the eerie, haunting singing of the sirens then change to a deep guttural scream for another scene showing a storm at sea.

When the show ended the applause was very loud and appreciative. A few people even rose from their seats as they clapped. The audience was invited to meet the members of the Paper Cinema team after the show, but unfortunately I had to leave rather quickly (and I think there will have been quite a queue!)

For a better written and more extensive review of the show, I would advise reading this article by Harry Chapman of The Arbuturian.

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