Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 20 February 2013

Paper Cinema’s Odyssey

BAC ⋄ 14th February - 9 March 2013

A dream-like mix of animation and music.

Julia Rank

Distilling Homer’s Odyssey into just under eighty minutes is an audacious concept; Paper Cinema’s adaptation takes things a step further by eliminating the words altogether. Returning to the Battersea Arts Centre (a scaled-down Trojan Horse stands in the foyer) where it premiered last year, this remarkably intricate piece is above all a triumph of technical precision, as a comic book/silent film is constructed in front of our eyes using paper cut-outs placed against a projector to create an effect that’s like a moving series of Japanese woodcuts. It’s tempting to try to keep one eye on the operators (Nicholas Rawling and Imogen Charleston) and another on projections in order to fully appreciate how all the different elements come together.

The tale of cunning Odysseus of Ithaka, who took the long way home to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus after fighting for ten years in the Trojan War, is one of the most enduring products of the oral storytelling tradition, and such an unusual approach suits the idea of myths being living things that are constantly developing.

A less fearsome text than The Iliad, The Odyssey is a tale of homecoming and the restoration of harmony, culminating in the final scene in which the sepia colour scheme transforms into full colour and the careworn faces are restored to full bloom.

The running time means that several favourite episodes are left out (such as Odysseus’ liaison with the fabulously witchy Circe), but most of the key moments are in tact – the blinding of the Cyclops is the incident that much of the plot hinges on, one of Odysseus’ greatest feats of cunning but also the act that incurred the wrath of Poseidon and delayed his journey by years. The projections are particularly striking when evoking speed and crowd scenes, and the grandest set piece has to be the visit to the Underworld, in which crowds of nameless, faceless warriors multiply at a quietly devastating rate.

The live soundtrack is beautifully suited to the story’s shifting tones, featuring a violin, guitar and piano, and a number of unexpected devices, such as the spitting sound of bubble wrap and the crunching of gravel. Violin strains highlight happier times before the war, then taking a rockier turn as young Telemachus hitchhikes and motorcycles through Greece, speeding past adverts for Helen of Troy beauty products. These knowing modern touches and use of animalistic imagery heighten the piece’s dreamlike and nightmarish qualities: Odysseus’ protector Athena, goddess of wisdom, is portrayed in her owl form, whilst the slobbering, lascivious suitors are presented with wolf heads and terrifying talons, motivated by lust and greed that’s far more animal than human.

The nature of the piece doesn’t quite capture the extent of Odysseus’ travels, and his weariness, and there are a few bumpy moments in the storytelling; a little prior knowledge would probably be helpful for following the not-always-linear narrative, but is not essential as the delicately wrought images do most of the talking more than capably.


Julia Rank

Julia is a Londoner who recently completed a MA in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck College. Resolutely living in the past until further notice, Julia finds enjoyment in exploring art galleries and museums, dabbling in foreign languages, rummaging in second hand bookshops, and cats.

Paper Cinema’s Odyssey Show Info

Produced by Paper Cinema and Battersea Arts Centre

Directed by Nick Rawling


Running Time 1 hr 15 mins (no interval)



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