This intricate and expertly co-ordinated show is unlike anything you have ever seen before. Projectionists and cinematographers combine with puppeteers, actors, musicians and technicians to bring cinema to life in front of your eyes. Mary Shelley features heavily in this retelling, the loss of her young child and the impact it had on her life prefaces her story and is continually referenced in a single, repeated gesture of love between mother and child, between new life and its creator.
“The sheer artistry displayed by Manual Cinema is novel and awe-inspiring”
Visuals and soundtrack combine to create an instant atmosphere of anticipation and dread. Poignant and moving as well as scary, the styling nods to the style of silent movies. The story is told through silent film projected onto a large main screen but the mechanics are all visible. The audience can watch live actors interacting with shadow puppets and see the result concurrently. The downside of this is that the angle of each audience member’s view of the stage and screen will result in different elements being visible. It takes a while to adapt to such a busy stage. There is so much to watch that it is difficult to allow yourself to be fully absorbed by the beautiful screenplay.
The stage could not possibly accommodate any more equipment, obscure instruments, cameras, projectors and screens. The story is created using a combination of shadow puppetry, using both live actors and puppets, video feed of a puppet from a small movable camera and from a still camera at head height. The costuming and puppet design is infinitely intricate. Transitions from cardboard shadow puppet to real life actor to 3D puppet are seamless. Details such as fringe shape, eyelashes and clothing shape allow each of the characters to be not only recognisable but occasionally indistinguishable from their 2D versions.
The soundtrack is equally intricate and eerie. Instruments which I have not seen before were used to great effect, including what appeared to be a bass saxophone and flute. Percussion included a metal sink, plant pots and large chimes hanging behind a two-metre long glockenspiel. Once the story proper of Frankenstein began, it became apparent that several pieces of percussion were playing themselves, operated electronically and remotely.
This is a new genre of theatre for me and one I am grateful to have experienced. The sheer artistry displayed by Manual Cinema is novel and awe-inspiring.
Image: Michael Brosilow