Theatre in another dimension

20th February 2009 at 00:00
Magical is a word often used to describe paper cinema. But will the digital generation get it?

A novel - The Lost World - has been condensed into 35 minutes of paper cinema. Around 100 two-dimensional, highly detailed puppets and pieces of scenery have been hand-drawn. Music has been written and sound effects produced.

The process began last year and was only completed a matter of weeks ago. Now Craigroyston Community High in Edinburgh gets to see the show.

Three people are needed for the production, performed by Kora and The Paper Cinema: Nick Rawling, who is the "mastermind", creator of the puppets and puppeteer; Kieron Maguire who uses everything from spine-chilling sound effects to the flamenco guitar to create the soundtrack; and Caroline Williams, an actress-turned-puppeteer. It was commissioned by Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust as one of the events for The Lost World Read 2009, which is designed to encourage young and old to read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel of the same name.

In front of the stage in the school hall, level with the audience, sit Nick and Caroline, their chairs facing each other. In the small space between them, they introduce and manipulate the 2D puppets and scenery against a black backdrop (a cardboard box with a sheet thrown over it). The action is captured by a camera linked to a projector and beamed onto a white screen onstage, where the audience sees the story unfold.

"Nick does the artwork, photocopies it and sticks it onto what are commonly know as cereal boxes and puts them in front of the screen in a series of framed shots," says Kieron.

"People love paper cinema because it is ambiguous and open to interpretation. The stories are often more dream-like than spelt out. But because this was for a school audience, there is more of a linear progression. We really try and tell the story and add excitement and adventure, rather than a more surreal take."

And it is wonderful the way a story is created on screen through the skill of the puppeteers. The highly detailed drawings tell much in themselves, but then they are brought to life through movement and the layering and intertwining of other images.

In this production, the characters paddle downstream; sleep in front of flickering fires; climb trees, passing monkeys on the way; and are chased by dinosaurs and attacked by gorillas. Every adult in the room seems mesmerised, but what about the younger audience members, more used to computer-generated images?

Lauren Wilson, 12, is disappointed. She followed the story: "It was about these people who went into the jungle and seen (sic) dinosaurs and gorillas and got eaten and that" - but she found the way it was told "quite strange".

She was disappointed by the lack of dialogue - there is none at all; and the lack of colour - all the drawings are in black and white. "Yesterday, when we were told we were seeing a play, I thought: 'Oh yeah! A play!' And then we came down here and there were puppets. That's hardly a play - that's like a child's play."

The school librarian points out this will be the first time most pupils have ever seen any kind of silent film. Not all pupils find it a trial, however.

Stuart Meader, also 12, said: "It must take a lot of skill to manipulate the puppets. Some of the effects were extremely good and the angles some of the puppets were taken at were fantastic."

Kora and The Paper Cinema will be touring schools for the rest of the year.; www.myspace.comkorauk.

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