Dionysus would approve [by James Wenley]
For a story that has passed from an oral tradition, and then written down by Homer, it’s intriguing how The Paper Cinema tell their Odyssey mainly through visual imagery and sound, filmed and played live. Even with the technological mediation (or perhaps because of) I felt connected with a story that has been retold and repurposed throughout the ages, as I sat in a darkened room to relive once again Odysseus’ perilous journey home.
To tell their story, The Paper Cinema has quite the impressive set-up. On one side of the stage are work-stations consisting of cameras and an incredible stack of paper drawings, cut-outs, and creations that will be used by Nicholas Rawling and Imogen Charleston to create the show’s visuals. On the other, is an equally incredible stack of instruments and other noise-makers that will be used by Christopher Reed, Hazel Mills and Katherine Mann to create the evocative soundscape, that includes a violin, keyboards, scrunched up paper and a long string attached to wind chimes positioned over the audience’s head. In the middle is a large screen where the magic happens – well some of the magic anyway.
By way of introduction, Rawling inks onto a filmed piece of paper the main characters of the story – Greek hero Odysseus, his wife Penelope, son Telemachus, Goddess Athene, and inventively depicts the suitors that hound Penelope during her husband’s absence as a pack of wolves. For the rest of the show the pieces are pre-drawn, but this opening allows us an insight into the hours and skill that must have gone into creating the paper elements.
What we see on screen is a work of art, one you could feasibly encounter in an Art Gallery screening. The live element increases the delight and wonder of how the final image on the screen is created. The show employs the screen language of fades, overlays and montages, using their manipulation of the paper elements to simulate complex cinematographic moves. In the prologue alone there is a stunning wild boar hunt; the boar crashes through the forest at pace, the screen follows an arrow which pierces the animals side, all realised with a clever sense of motion and movie language. By the end of the first book of The Odyssey I’m able to settle and focus more on the story being told rather than how they are telling it, but I continue to be amazed as I glance over at the work of the artists.
The main thrust of the The Odyssey’s narrative and structure is followed in condensed fashion. First the experiences of Penelope at Ithaca and Telemachus’s search for his father. We then meet Odysseus on the island of Calypso, depicted as a play thing in the giant hands of the nymph. We flashback to the events leading up to Odysseus’ captivity, and there’s even a miniature pop-up book that gives a broad sweep of the events of the Iliad.
The focus doesn’t rest as much on Odysseus’s long journey home as you might expect, many of his adventures are dealt with in a quick prophetic montage when he and his men venture to Hades, and those unfamiliar with the story might be forgiven for not quite understanding what happened back there with the Cyclops. Instead, what is emphasised is the longing for family, with Penelope and Odysseus always shown to be at the forefront of each other’s minds. While there’s a lot of story to get through, Paper Cinema knows when to pause and linger, the manipulation of the images and the beautiful music creates a palpable emotional effect. There are many witty flourishes throughout too, such as when they briefly pan over Cyclops to reveal a tattoo of “Dad” in a love heart, or when Telemachus is revealed to be on a motorbike, a drill held to a microphone giving the image the audio grunt. Look out for the owl cameos, representing the Goddess Athene’s interventions.
The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey is a divine retelling of one of the world’s greatest stories. Take your loved ones.
The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey is presented by Auckland Live in association with Battersea Arts Centre and plays at the Lower NZI, Aotea Centre until 1 Nov. More details see Auckland Live.