Nights at The Circus, on at theSpace on Niddry Street, employs Chloe Rodham’s animation to good effect. The juxtaposition of the magical innocence and the much darker tones carried across from Angela Carters novel about a young girls experiences growing up in a brothel and joining the circus, is well served by the fairytale menace with which Rodham brings to her work. And as Rodham attests as I speak to her on the phone from Edinburgh, it was a combination of the stage and book which lends these technically gifted animations their nature: Angela Carter’s book informing the atmosphere and design of the animation, while the stage adaption script defined the animated sections, the when and the wheres. And by using an audio recorder of a rehearsal for the timings, she was able to get a feel of what was happening onstage, as her imagination for her animations sprung into life.
Her animation is texturally very rich, a mixture of models given motility by stop motion photography and oil paintings which are then animated on the computer. Different mediums are used for different characters – the curious women at Madame Schreck’s brothel-cum-freak show are physical models, offering a roundedness which emphasises their strangeness. Others, such as Lizzie and Ma Nelson, are paintings, their interactions with cockney venus Fevvers become more shadowy and mystical. Madame Schreck comes to us as 2D graphics, withered and veiled as she floats down the corridor like a spectre. With this complex mix of materials Rodham is able to build up layers of texture allowing the end result to be extremely tactile – the audience wishes to reach out and touch Fevvers golden locks and soft feathery wings, while other characters feel worryingly near and inhuman, and are able to move in unique ways, distinct from each other.
Rodham explains that the models are originally sculpted from plasticene and then cast to create a silicon version with a inner skeleton of wire armature to allow mobility. Some had costumes made of papier mache while others were dressed in fabric. All were shot against black, with backgrounds composed afterwards with a mixture of painting and photography through which a plausible yet visually intriguing picture of Carter’s vision emerges. Drawing the world around the character offers a very dreamlike quality to the work, where the backgrounds shift and merge in colour as the character themselves remains composed. The result is a world as dense and rich as a painting which has been blown into life; layers of images are built up to pick out particular areas of colour.