The Skinny, MacBeth - review by Dominic Corr

The story of Macbeth – once Thane of Glamis, then Thane of Cawdor, and finally (after commiting regicide) King of Scotland – is probably Shakespeare’s quintessential, if not his most accessible work. Macbeth is the archetype of corruption, blind ambition and self-prophecy, and we all know it as one of theatre’s baseline cautionary tales.

What is certainly atypical however is the medium in which The Paper Cinema regale us with The Bard's tale. Illustrated paper cutouts, ingeniously creative sound and visual effects all bring Macbeth to life in a fresh way.

Five performers each control an aspect of the story, such as sound or characters, while three video cameras offer a live feed of the action as they manoeuvre the characters. This offers an immense depth of field for the show, as we see every shake, and feel each spill of blood, positioned closer to the story that many will be familiar with.

Whilst our gaze should remain fixated on the screen before us, we can’t help admiring what is going on below, and we want to see the man behind the curtain offering an insight few other shows manage. This isn’t just theatre, but a love letter to animated process with stylistic choices similar to those of Josh Kirby (Discworld) or Hergé (Tintin).

When you strip away The Bard's language, you might think that this destroys the soul of the piece, but what we may lose in speech is made up for tenfold with music. Christopher Reed’s composition accompanies the visceral piece, scored in an earthly, gritty folk style. Together with fellow performer Francesca Simmons, their sound delivers on atmosphere throughout, from Celtic numbers to spectral undertones.

The Paper Cinema’s Macbeth isn’t theatre, nor just an animated movie; the duality of its construction is echoed in what occurs to the audience. By removing speech and a great deal of colour, we are encouraged to let our mind evolve the story. It’s the audience who give Lady Macbeth a voice; it's us who hear the gut-wrench in MacDuff’s cries.

With a growing base of fans thanks to manipulate, Summerhall and the Fringe, The Paper Cinema is quite rightly garnering the praise it deserves. As they stand surrounded by bulging stacks of paper, we are already excited to see what they deliver next.

The Observer - interview by Tom Lamont

In a dusty backroom off Stoke Newington High Street, north London, Paper Cinema rehearse their latest work, a feature-length rendition of The Odyssey. The group's performance method is strange: unforgettable once seen, but tricky to explain. "I sometimes refer to it as illustrated song or an exploded comic book," says artistic director Nic Rawling. "People have likened it to Japanese shadow theatre or finger puppetry, but it's very different."

Sometimes, he tells people the work is ineffable (and that they should see it for themselves, "hint, hint") but let's give description a go. The outfit has five core members: three musicians, who sit amid a variety of instruments, and beside them, in full view of the audience, two puppeteers who manipulate figures and objects and items of scenery, cut out of flat card and mostly monochrome, in front of a digital video camera. The results are broadcast on a screen behind and this combination – dreamy score, projected image with flat objects moving in and out of focus – works out like a live-made Disney film. Watching the performers, heads down, working to a precise choreography, is as engrossing as the story being projected above them.

"In early gigs," says guitarist and composer Chris Reed, "we'd play behind the audience." But they started to get a better reaction when "the working parts" – as puppeteer Imogen Charleston calls the team – "were out there to see". In recent years, they've played in venues as diverse as the Tate, sharing space with John Martin paintings, and outside Notre Dame, projecting on to a sheet between two trees. They regularly play in the north-east London rehearsal room (an event space in its own right, wryly known as Stoke Newington International Airport) and this month they will play their first West End gig, at the Criterion as part of the theatre's "Playing the Games" season.

The troupe was founded by Rawling eight years ago, initially playing as a sort of human art installation, improvising puppeteered films for events such as Down the Rabbit Hole at the Oxo Tower. Their first narrative piece, commissioned by Battersea Arts Centre, was a 10-minute short featuring 52 puppets. Their next work was 18-minutes with 85 pieces. The Odyssey (another co-production with the BAC) is 70 minutes and they haven't dared count the puppets. "It would scare the pants off me," says Rawling. "We're always seeking new places to stuff them."

Keyboardist Ed Dowie and violinist Quinta make up the five-piece, but Rawling credits a wider family of helpers for the difficult part – cutting out the card needed for a show. "We've got a great bunch of mates," he says, "who get hoiked in before a new performance. We hand them free wine and a scalpel."

exeunt magazine review

In a low-lit room at the top of the Battersea Arts Centre, Paper Cinema are rehearsing. Someone is tinkering on the piano, while next to him a girl plays the musical saw. The room fills up with a longing warble until someone else picks up a ukelele and the mood changes. A sheet hangs at one end of the room and in front of it an arrangement of of angle poise lamps and Hi 8 cameras are duct-taped to wobbly stools. On another stool is a pile of pen and ink drawings on sticks. These paper cut-outs are director Nic Beard’s drawings of Homer’s Odyssey and they are soon to become the stars of the big (well, biggish) screen. On stage alongside them will be a cast of Imogen Charleston and Nic puperteering and Chris Reed, Ed Dowie and Quinta providing the music and sound effects.

The story goes that Nic and Chris’ artistic collaboration was born when Nic swapped one of his paintings for the payment of his gas bill. Nic began making Lo-Fi AV for friends gigs but the projections that began as a practical way to showing his drawings in a night club setting soon became a crucial part of his work. Over the years he and his changing group of collaborators have developed a unique way to tell stories, layering images to build an orchestrated sketchbook, they project real-time paper puppetry to make cinematic animation.

Their first full length piece was a double bill of an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe story, King Pest, and and self-penned piece The Night Flyer. Their next major project was Rock Charmer an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. Supported by Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature in 2009, this began as a series of workshops and performances in Scottish schools and libraries and ended up taking the group to the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset to perform in a the rock chamber of a stone Quarry. Driftwood dinosaurs built by children became enormous puppets and the performance culminated in a lantern-lit walk through the caves to a nearby pub. From Denmark to Azerbaijan, they have taken their unique cinematic method around the world, building links with co-operative, volunteer-run spaces such as the Cube Microplex in Bristol and the Forest Fringe in Edinburgh. They have performed on the banks of the Seine on a sheet hung between two cherry trees, at End of the Road and Green Man festivals and now, having received Arts council funding, Paper Cinema are back at BAC.