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The Paper Cinema's Odyssey


The Paper Cinema's Odyssey

By Homer & The Paper Cinema

Battersea Arts Centre, Battersea

Devised and performed by the ensemble: Nicholas Rawling, Imogen Charleston, Caroline Williams, Christopher Reed, Ed Dowie, Quinta and Matthew Brown

Until 25 February 2012 @ 7.30pm, tickets £15/10

Running time: 1hr 20 mins, no interval

Review by Katy Darby

It's not often you come across a show which, despite lacking not only words but live actors, can enrapture an audience as much as a conventional play; but The Paper Cinema's Odyssey is just that. Every minute of this short but perfectly-formed theatre piece is a delight, from the first moment hero Odysseus, wife Penelope and son Telemachus's faces appear onscreen before us (courtesy of live illustrator Nicholas Rawling) to the final starry fade-down.

 Here's the deal: the Paper Cinema is a sort of magic-lantern show for the third millennium, retelling a story nearly 3,000 years old: Homer's Odyssey. Whether this enchanting blend of illustration, live music and puppetry would work as well with a less famous story is a moot point: it works so brilliantly (and the tale is so well-chosen) that I don't think a single person in the audience would have failed to eulogise it to a friend.

Just in case anyone doesn't know it, though, here's the story so far (culled from the helpful programme notes): Nine years after the end of the ten-year-long Trojan War, Ithaca's King Odysseus still hasn't come home. In his absence, his house has been besieged by suitors who are after his crown, wife and lands. This is where we come in, and over the next 80 minutes we get to watch the determined soldier-king overcome one-eyed monsters, nymphs, enchantresses, sirens, and even escape Hades to return at last to his faithful wife and son.

With the clever use of hand-drawn paper landscapes, props and figures, (including a Cyclops) several cameras, and at least five instruments, the ensemble of two puppeteers and three musicians creates an 80-minute live film before your eyes, and the effect really is magical. Nicholas Rawling's drawings have a vigour and charm reminiscent of Quentin Blake, and Matthew Brown's alternately soaring and sighing score is pitch-perfect. Every detail is attended to, from the realistic sound-effects provided by the players (thunder, rushing ocean, howling wolves, slobbering dog), to the billboard Telemachus sees during his search for his father, featuring an advert for Helen of Troy face cream.

These witty, imaginative touches, which update the age-old story in some respects (Telemachus rides a flying motorbike in one thrilling sequence) and keep it firmly in the realm of myth in others – Penelope's rapacious suitors are depicted as champagne-quaffing wolves – are what give this show its irresistible appeal. But that's not to say it's sentimental, twee, or for kids – I defy anyone with eyes and a heart not to enjoy a wonderful old story told in a wonderful new way. Race to the BAC before it closes on February 25th, or you'll miss a truly unique and exquisite treat.

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