Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Odyssey - review

Written by: Caroline Mathias (@caroveraclare)

Battersea Arts Centre, London

The Paper Cinema's Odyssey is described as a combination of live music, illustration, puppetry and ‘manual animation’, all things I like. I am hopeful of great things as I approach the beautiful Battersea Arts Centre. This is The Paper Cinema’s return to BAC after touring nationally with this ancient tale of a father’s journey home from the Trojan War. The action – a story whose outlines I remember from school but whose details I had largely forgotten – is illustrated, filmed live and projected onto the sail of Odysseus’ ship.

Simply put, this is a fantastic show. It combines artistry, sleight-of-hand, an epic story and a sense of humour that had the audience laughing, crying and gasping aloud.

Nicholas Rawling’s illustrations are stunning - as each character is introduced for the first time they are drawn 'live', lines of ink flowing across the screen like something growing. I wrote something a while back about the versatility of a black box and a piece of chalk; Paper Cinema are making magic out of ink and paper. The black mood of Odysseus' son is painted so that the ink swirls even after the brush has moved on, and the pre-title sequence moved me to tears. The rosy-fingered dawn, the terrifying Cyclops and the baying wolves are all brilliantly realised.

The drawings are vital to Odyssey's success but so is its choreography - the framing of each image, the rhythm and pace as we move through the story. Each illustration has been constructed with care and meticulous attention to detail, and the same is true of the way they are filmed. The camera seems to swoop and dive through forests and seas, look in at windows and pan across vast landscapes – and yet it never moves at all. Rawling and Imogen Charleston manipulate dozens of individual drawings in a flowing sequence, making the clever puppetry look effortless.

Musical director Christopher Reed, along with Hazel Mills and Quinta, switch fluently between piano, guitar, violin and other, less conventional objects including a box of gravel and a packet of Space Raiders. The soundscape they create is evocative and atmospheric, and I love the way the mechanics of each sound happen right in front of us. We hear a motorbike and see an arrow flying through a wood, but can also see that we are being tricked – and it is satisfying to watch image and sound come together. Puppeteers and musicians gaze up at the screen as the audience do, so we’re all watching the story play out.

Odyssey is described as a ‘feature length film’, yet it was a very theatrical experience and the ‘live-ness’ of it is really important. There is an ongoing debate (which doesn’t really belong on a theatre blog, sorry) about the importance of projectionists in cinema, and whether screenings of films are ‘performances’. Odyssey – which is a silent movie projected onto a screen, with live accompaniment – manages to be both cinematic and theatrical. Which is interesting. See it if you possibly can, it's wonderful.

This production runs until 9 March 2013. 
@battersea_arts #PCOdyssey 

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