Paper Cinema’s Macbeth, Battersea Arts Centre

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By Laura Kressly

I’m a sucker for inventive adaptations of Shakespeare plays, so Paper Cinema’s Macbeth, a live-action, silent movie version, is hugely appealing. For 90 minutes a team of five use handheld cameras, desk lamps and hand-drawn illustrations to broadcast the story in visual form onto a large screen. Accompanied by a Celtic-inspired, cinematic score, this graphic novel/stop motion/object manipulation telling is enchanting – until I ask my companion, a Dutch woman who doesn’t know Macbeth, what she thought. 

She struggled to follow the story at all, and only came away with a vague understanding of the plot and no sense of the story’s nuance. Though she marvelled at the art and technique the company displays, this is not a production for those who do not have a decent understanding of the play. The format and style is otherwise charming and fun.

There’s a lot to watch, and this is a great production for audiences who love their theatre visually stimulating. The five performers aren’t brightly lit, but they are in full view. Three studio setups are miniaturised along the front of the theatre’s stage with the broadcasted footage switching between them. Sometimes the live feeds overlap, with one camera filming a background to another’s broadcast of characters.

The hand drawn, black and white illustrations are intricately detailed and effectively portray the untamed world of Macbeth’s Scotland that is so often ignored. The wind and the rain are unforgiving, and the characters’ faces are etched with the lines that come from lives spent fighting for survival. The lack of colour further adds to the stark, coldness of this world and is one of the best design concepts I’ve ever seen for this play.

But for comprehension, a little would go a long way. A synopsis hitting the show’s main plot points would be helpful, and give more space and scope than captions would. Audio description, which would make the show accessible to visually impaired audiences, would also benefit those that hear. Paper Cinema pares the story down slightly and there’s no text to further slow it, but the character introduction at the beginning doesn’t go far enough in providing context to the story. This is an excellent concept and a delightfully nuanced look at Shakespeare’s original play, but it doesn’t do enough to bring new audiences to Shakespeare.

Paper Cinema’s Macbeth runs through 27 October.

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