The Paper Cinema took to the stage of Liverpool’s Everyman once again with a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, Macbeth. The audience were treated to a captivating silent film composed of hand-drawn puppets and live music.
The company was formed in 2004 by Nicholas Rawling, Imogen Charleston and Christopher Reed, and received critical acclaim with their ‘stunning’ adaptation of Homer’s Greek epic, The Odyssey. Unlike many other theatre companies, they combine the ‘language of animation, music, film and theatre’ to create a spectacle. No live actors are needed. Instead, the story is told through a series of pen illustrations that are projected onto a big screen. Live music and sound effects occasionally chime in to dramatise the production.
It is incredibly mechanical: the music, puppets and various illustrated backgrounds were operated by five people centred on stage. Not only were you treated to the story of Macbeth, but you watched how it was created. It was interesting to see this side of the production. Instead of hiding them away behind stage, the company embraced their artists. These five people, and their craftsmanship, were celebrated just as much as the actual adaptation.
I did find this a little distracting though; my attention was often drawn towards the people rather than the screen. It became a show on the mechanics, rather than an adaptation of Macbeth. I found myself losing track of the story because I was too busy watching them transition the puppets or how they performed the sound effects.
The adaptation felt quite inaccessible. There would be no issue for fans of Macbeth – the rugged Scottish landscape and intense storyline were instantly recognisable – but I question whether people less familiar with the story would follow along. Despite Macbeth being a favourite of mine, even I found myself lost at times. It was hard to tell the characters apart (they all looked quite similar), and it was difficult to understand what they were thinking as the dialogue was absent from the play. Subtitles would have been helpful, even if they only gave a short summary of the upcoming scene. This would have enabled the audience to follow the narrative more easily.
Other than this, I thought the Paper Cinema’s production of Macbeth was an interesting adaptation. It is easy to do a traditional, or even modern, retelling, but it is unusual and challenging to translate the play into nothing but illustrations and live music. The Paper Cinema are fantastic at what they do – the drawings are beautifully detailed and the composers are extremely skilled – but I don’t think it is for everyone.
Photography by James Allan.