“Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. […]Tell me, too, about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them” Homer’s Odyssey
There is something irrevocably ritualistic about Paper Cinema’s adaptation of Homer’s poem. It charts Odysseus’s epic journey home after the fall of Troy, across land and sea, through worlds both treacherous and vast. In its very form is inscribed a passion for oral storytelling, whose lyricism, irregularity and popular nature is translated into a multi-faceted experience. The focus on detail, the seeming lack of interest in linearity and the way they shift their gaze over different aspects of the story create a textured, nuanced and atmospheric production, one in keeping with the Odyssey’s own history. It is precisely the unevenness of Paper Cinema’s take on The Odyssey that makes it so engaging. In its use of visual language it manages to be both literary in its descriptiveness and theatrical in its form.
Paper Cinema tackle Homer’s epic through a combination of live drawing, image manipulation and a series of hand-made animations juxtaposed with live sound: both music and sound effects. The real-time nature of the piece means the audience are constantly engaged in the creative process as well as with the act of performance. The piece revolves around the screen on which the images are projected, yet the performers themselves are also on stage, framed by Michael Vale’s evocative set and Rob Walpole’s subtly atmospheric lighting, and the production works both as a piece of storytelling and as a piece of multimedia theatre, with considerable interaction between the stage and the screen.
If the narrative can feel, at times, patchy and uneven, this is countered by the immediacy of the experience and the atmosphere it creates. This is a piece that requires constant engagement from the viewer, one that creates a dialogue between its cinematic and theatrical languages. Caroline William’s understanding of the effects of movement in the manipulation of the images and Irena Stratieva and Nic Rawling’s precision allow them to convey nuances like depth and scale. At times this is to the detriment of the wider scope of the narrative, yet it is this focus on the minutiae of the story rather than its wider themes that also gives the piece its identity. This is certainly not an orthodox adaptation of Homer’s poem; it’s a production that focuses on the symbolism of journeying as a constant search for identity.
Their Odyssey specifically evades linear narrative in order to explore Homer’s poem in its cultural context, both current and historical. The piece takes the form of a journey, one not only of differing terrain, but of dreams and illusions too. The piece delves into the characters’ minds, into their nightmares, but it never gets too lost: it winks at the audience too, it cracks wise. It is most engaging when it remains confident in its aesthetic shifts, though at times it’s too reliant on the music to dictate its mood. The best moments are those of juxtaposition.
Paper Cinema’s Odyssey is a beautifully lyrical and human piece of storytelling; it delves in and out of its subject with skill and ease and a solid understanding of the relationship between the various theatrical languages at play. This is the company at its best: creating work that is explorative, atmospheric and vivid, translating the essence of a classical poem into a potent theatrical experience.
You can read our feature on the making of Paper Cinema’s Odyssey here.