'The Odyssey' - The Paper Cinema
The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey proved to be one of the hot tickets of this year’s Norfolk and Norwich Festival (the night I went was sold out with a waiting list). Quite impressive given that we were all queuing to see a 3,000 year old epic poem told using pieces of paper.
The stage was set with 3 simple hanging cloths reminiscent of sails and, in the foreground, a group of assorted musical instruments and a Heath Robinson contraption of cameras and lighting. As the houselights went down the three musicians and two puppeteers entered the space, the centre cloth was lowered to become a cinema screen and the show began.
From the very start this show was a feast for the senses. The main protagonists were introduced in a prologue through a series of pen and ink sketches drawn live on stage by the highly talented Nicholas Rawling (Artistic Director, Illustrator and designer of The Paper Cinema) and projected onto the screen. We met King Odysseus, his long-suffering wife Penelope, their son Telemachus, Penelope’s wolfish suitors and were introduced to the goddess Athene (complete with the magical accompaniment of a wind chime suspended over the audience and operated by a string tied to the piano).
Homer's epic poem is condensed into a family saga revolving around the King, his wife and their son. In a series of images we see their happy family destroyed as Odysseus sails off to war against Troy leaving the brooding Penelope alone to bring up the increasingly angry young Telemachus. Not only is Odysseus away for 10 years of the war, it takes him a further 9 years to make his way back home.
His return journey is fraught with dangers and the necessary truncation of the story does sometimes make it look as though he deserves most of what he gets. At one point, having killed the Cyclops Polyphemus and eaten sacred cattle (despite the signs expressly telling him not to) it comes as no surprise that Poseidon and Helios conspire to cause a storm which wrecks his ship. Meanwhile at the palace the suitors are circling Penelope so the teenage Telemachus decides to head off and find his missing father. His journey is deliberately anachronistic and looks a lot like a ‘Trustafarian's’ gap year as he travels by motorboat (accompanied by the sound of an outboard motor played on a violin), trains, buses and a rather fine motorbike.
Eventually father and son are reunited and together set off home to the palace where the suitors are working themselves up into a state of lupine lasciviousness and Penelope is at the end of her tether. Suffice it to say, the homecoming proves that the family that slays together, stays together.
So what is Paper Cinema? Is it Toy Theatre? Is it illustration? Is it a concert with moving pictures? It contains elements of all of these but above all it is live cinema. The aesthetic may be based on pen and ink drawings but the visual techniques (the framing, the pan, the zoom) are definitely cinematic. The placing of the performers in the foreground adds a further layer to the performance and I found that often I was trying to see how a particular picture was being created or watching the musicians creating "Foley" sound effects and changing instruments. All of this adds to the richness of the piece and makes the Paper Cinema the unique experience that it is.
I suspect that the majority of us who left the theatre to the accompaniment of the Jacky Wilson classic "Higher and Higher”, had a great night out - even if we had all been watching a 3,000 year old poem played out with pieces of paper!
A Paper Cinema and BAC co-production
Co-Commissioned by Parabola Arts Centre