Review: The Paper Cinema's Macbeth
Image: Battersea Arts Centre
Devisors and puppeteers:
Immerse yourself on a journey through rugged Scottish landscapes and encounter storms, betrayal and murderous plot.
Shakespeare's tragedy is vividly told with illustration, masterful puppetry and a live score.
Watch a captivating silent film created before your eyes.
Hand-drawn puppets collide with music, Foley and cinematic projection to create epic battle scenes and intricate characters.
Following their critically acclaimed Odyssey, The Paper Cinema re-imagine Macbeth as a cautionary tale for our times.
Though the company responsible for this novel and gripping version of Shakespeare's bloody tragedy are called The Paper Cinema, and in spite of the fact that their version of Macbeth is projected onto a big screen, I'm actually not sure whether to describe this show as cinema, theatre, or puppetry.
It does, however, evoke memories of old black and white films, and since the result of the efforts of the team is projected onto a screen, maybe it is more akin to film than theatre.
I've also seen the technique used here described as 'live animation' and, to add to the definitional problem, the team are described as puppeteers in the programme notes.
Categorising this show precisely actually doesn't really matter too much, but let me explain how it works and then you can judge for yourself.
Yes, there's a big screen onto which are projected images of small cardboard cut-outs of the characters and locations which make up the story.
A three person team sit at desks below the big screen manipulating the hundreds of beautifully detailed, hand-drawn images that the show contains, and their efforts are projected onto the screen via video cameras.
Making up the remainder of the performance team are two musicians who also provide the foley effects - footsteps and the like.
The act of projecting the small cardboard images renders them, of course, as much larger when transferred to the screen and, moreover, the characters are animated as the plot unfolds.
Part of the enjoyment of this show is that we can see the company working their magic at their desks in real time - and it's a much more complex and highly-skilled craft than you might first think.
In order to keep the action progressing at a suitable pace, the team have to snatch the next characters or props from enormous pre-organised piles and sometimes have to manipulate several characters at once - it's all meticulously and flawlessly timed, and is inventively clever stuff.
There's no dialogue during the show, so it's through the action alone that the story is told and we find plenty to keep us entranced with raging battles, manic witches, and numerous brutal murders all part of the dramatic mix.
Black and white images predominate but the Scottish crown stands out sparkling in gold and some of the more violent scenes are suitably bathed in red.
Even if Shakespeare's Macbeth is a bloody tragedy with numerous people murdered, there are moments of witty humour, exemplified when the crown is given a touch of spit and polish.
And the entire piece is embellished with a wonderfully evocative live soundtrack from musicians Christopher Reed and Francesca Simmons who play violin, keyboards, recorder, drums and even a musical saw along the way.
However you prefer to classify this work, it is an ingenious and brilliantly-crafted production that is not only great storytelling but is also enormously enjoyable in spite of (and even perhaps because of) the tragic nature of Shakespeare's well-known tale.
Judging by their reaction at the end, the audience seemed to love every minute of it, and so did I.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Battersea Arts Centre
Our show listing for The Paper Cinema's Macbeth
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