It might seem a stretch for me, a theatre critic, to review The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey. After all, this isn’t theatre. Instead, this exquisite version of Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ is more like an animated graphic novel. Yet this is still an innately theatrical experience. There are a number of live performance elements: we are shown the puppeteers and process behind the graphic projections and a trio of on-stage musicians provide the soundtrack. The result is a show that has all the immediacy, warmth, imagination, wit and energy of live theatre.
The production starts off simply enough, as an artist sketches Odysseus and the image is projected on a screen. The space hums with the quiet magic of a bed-time story. That innocence is a quality that softly lights up the entire production. This group’s talent is certainly impressive yet they never set out to dazzle us, only light us from within.
The complexity of the projections build, reflecting Homer’s sophisticated, non-linear narrative technique. We jump between Odysseus’ adventure and his wife, Penelope and son, Telemachus back home. As the action jumps between the two, the images are layered on top of each other. We see Penelope’s face; the light brigtens, we see through her head and right through to her thoughts inside. The flexibility of this company’s craft allows them to keep up with even the jumpiest and most ambitious of narratives.
Admittedly, the narrative thread is sometimes lost in the bounding jumps between Penelope and Odysseus’ plight. Sometimes, it feels like we’re only experiencing this story on an aesthetic level. But that aesthetic experience is so powerful and so profoundly connected to the core of Homer’s story that, while we lose hold of some of the finer narrative threads, we never disconnect from the heart of this tale.
There are some extraordinarily complex moments, which highlight the keen ambition of this intially modest-seeming company. Folding cardboard cut-outs create brilliantly complex perspectives and the use of two cameras allows the company to create an image so deep, it feels like the company has somehow moved beyond 3D.
Yet it is this company’s simplicity that remains its greatest strength. Despite all the technical and artistic ingenuity on show here, this is still a resolutely unflashy production. This simplicity allows the company to create some extraordinarily powerful moments with just the tiniest of tweaks. When Odysseus and Penelope are finally reunited, the stark black and white set is suddenly flooded with colour. It feels like nothing less than the beginning of a new and better world. Awesome.