Friday, 15 May 2009

In praise of low-fi theatre

With CGI and other digital techniques making increasing inroads into entertainment media, it sometimes feels like the story is lost behind the special effects. But Nic Rawling has devised a new concept that harks back to a simpler time when storytelling was a central element of human culture, rather than a multi-million pound industry.

The Paper Cinema combines live animation with live music to create an experience which is almost like watching a film being made in your living room. The elements are simple - black ink line drawings, cut out and mounted onto recycled card to create sets and characters, which are animated live via an antiquated video camera and projected onto a screen. The tiny original drawings are enlarged on the screen, but still retain a compelling intimacy. The action is accompanied by a musical score played primarily on guitar and violin by a single musician. And that's all. The entire show fits in three small cases, making it portable enough to play at music festivals and other makeshift venues. A large part of its charm is the fact that the animation takes place in plain view so that you can see how the illusion is created, and the performance we attended was preceded by a workshop where we could try the techniques for ourselves.

The current repertoire includes two pieces. King Pest, based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, is a dark tale of pestilence and plague, scary enough to see off some of the more timid children in the audience. Night Flyer is an original story of a young man's quest to find and rescue a flying girl, still rather dark and gothic but with a touch of romance.

It's not entirely unplugged, but The Paper Cinema is still sufficiently low-fi to qualify as low-carbon entertainment. And with no technological barrier between the audience and the artists, the result is a show that is as authentic as it is entertaining. You can find out more at

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