Sometimes, not often, it is the duty of a theatre reviewer to sit back and say little more than, “That was incredible”. Paper Cinema’s Odyssey is a piece of sheer beauty; at times fragile and delicate, at times bold and punchy, but always charming, interesting, and oh-so-very impressive.
It makes sense that Battersea Arts Centre is its home; Odyssey, always at risk of becoming tired and dog-eared due to its ceaseless tellings and retellings, is told with such energy and fierce wit that it almost feels like a piece of new writing. Battersea Arts Centre’s ethos of “inventing the future of theatre” is certainly a box ticked off here. Indeed, even the foyer adds to the delight, with an (albeit scaled-down) Trojan horse tucked away by the grand staircase, and a space for audiences to doodle their own odyssey by the bar.
The story of Homer’s Odyssey is told entirely through hand-illustrated puppets, which are manipulated effortlessly in real time by Nicholas Rawling and Imogen Charleston, and then projected onto a screen in silent movie fashion. Indeed, watching Rawling and Charleston mastering their trade is often as absorbing as the final product. This is accompanied by a trio of musicians (Christopher Reed, Quinta and Hazel Mills), who play everything from electric guitar to bubble wrap, my favourite of which was the dronish tone of a violin to represent the image of a speed boat chopping through the waters.
It is clear that Paper Cinema enjoy what they have created, and take well-deserved pride in their work. Amusing little touches are clearly as much for the benefit of the creators as they are for the audience; it is worth looking out for the banjo-playing wolf and the ‘Do Not Eat The Sacred Cows’ sign. The absurdist humour that is scattered throughout the piece is infectious and adds delightful touches of whimsy. Couple this with Odyssey’s beginning – with Rawling providing live animation – and you can do little more than appreciate the effort and skill on display.
Could this show be tighter, with, say, ten minutes shaved off the running time? Possibly. And I’m sure the brief glimpse of Rawling’s thumb on the screen was accidental. But if this is the only critique I can make of Odyssey, then you know that Paper Cinema have breathed life into something very special indeed.
Paper Cinema’s Odyssey is playing at Battersea Arts Centre until 9 March.