Homer’s Odyssey is the epic Greek poem of King Odysseus’s 20-year journey to return to his homeland and wife Penelope. He meets goddesses, kills a Cyclops, survives Poesiden’s storm and even meets death along the way. It is epic is every way and not a story to be taken lightly. Armed with video cameras, intricate pen drawings and cardboard cut outs, The Paper Cinema presents its retelling of The Odyssey through its captivating live animation performance.
The skill and mastery of Nicholas Rawling’s illustrations and designs in Odyssey cannot be faulted. His rough sketches ink in the magical world that Odysseus inhabits. They are the sort of illustrations that would not be out of place in frames and hung up for art lovers to enjoy. These 2D images morph and transform as the company works to give life to the cut outs by layering them one in front of each other, moving them like puppets that are then projected onto a screen. The effect is quite startling, with the illustrations forming a 3D world that is continually framed with cinematic precision. The static images become full of life, and we watch the world presented to us like an animation.
The production has the most seductive music performed by a live band, which adds a rolling soundtrack to the story. Characteristically, a lot of the signals towards atmosphere and emotion can be found within the music, giving a sense of understanding to this otherwise non-verbal piece.
There is no denying the production values within Odyssey, it’s clear that The Paper Cinema has worked meticulously to find just the right amount of movement and framing within which to build its live animation. It is continuously clever and inspiring to see what can be achieved with basic instruments. However, whilst the skill is clear to see, there is a certain lifeless quality to the work. We are never engaged emotionally, and, whilst the story is clear for those who know it, the illustrations and music can only offer a certain amount of understanding.
The piece feels as if it needs narration to assist the audience through the work, to offer an emotive quality to the characters. As it stands, The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey is nice to look at, but beyond this there is nothing more. Artistry and skill, yes, but depth and emotion, no. This balance is hard to find I am sure, and can’t be easy when manipulating the illustrations live in front of an audience. Yet something needs to be found within the intricacies of Rawling’s work, otherwise the audience will leave feeling visually amazed, but will all too soon forget it.
The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey is playing at Battersea Arts Centre until 25 February. For more information and tickets, see the BAC website.