Michelle Dee is in Hull Minster on Day 3, rocking out to Black Sabbath, ‘storm coming you better hide’; a fitting choice seeing as she is here to see The Paper Cinema’s Macbeth.
A stage and screen has been set up in the nave, the stage is strewn with lamps, light boxes instruments and the sort of cardboard sets straight from seventies era Blue Peter. A plucked string signals the start of the play, a shimmer and a shake on screen and THE SCOTTISH PLAY begins with the title written on the page of an exercise book. The music builds and the main characters complete with their names, fly in and out of the screen, like they do in fantasy shows on Netflix. Paper Cinema are a silent film/theatre company who are anything but silent.
The sound of the rain on the ‘blasted plain’ comes from actual water pouring. Later the messenger running up the castle steps with Lady Macbeth’s letter in hand, will involve the percussionist cum foley artist running up and down on the spot, right there in front of the audience.
I sat open-mouthed throughout, tingling with anticipation and excitement as the three witches first appear and sow the foul seeds that will fuel Macbeth’s ambition to be ruler. I marvel at the physicality of the first battle scene, a clash of blades left and right, Macbeth and Banquo brothers in arms, vanquishing all who stand before them. The animation takes on a manga quality as the background blurs, making the figures appear to fly in space, before burying a well-aimed hatchet into an enemy’s chest.
And yet, it is all just pen and ink cardboard cut-outs, on sticks, moved by hand – you can see them doing it – bouncing the paper Macbeth brandishing his sword, through the cardboard scenery. Far from spoiling the magic, seeing how it is done is great fun, enabling the audience to share in the secret and delight in seeing a nursery plaything brought magically to life before their eyes.
The folk music soundtrack is performed live and sounds magical inside the Minster, an eerie woodwind laments for Lady Macbeth as she stalks the castle chambers, a lively jig on violin, for the revellers feasting and carousing in the banquet hall as Macbeth entertains his king, the unwitting Duncan just hours before the deed is done. Come on Michelle surely the all-important murder scene can’t be all that convincing done with cardboard cut-outs?
You will be surprised again and again, and somewhat in awe, at the levels of drama Paper Cinema can convey within the confines of their two dimensional world. Subtle changes in appearance suggest shifting core emotions, triumph, love, anger, fear drawn out on the cartoonish faces, the sheer ingenuity and dexterity as the figures interact with their surroundings and with each other with uncanny familiarity. I could pinpoint the exact moment, the shift in the balance of power as Macbeth becomes his wife’s puppet.
See The Paper Cinema’s Macbeth at Heads Up Festival at Hull Minster on Saturday March 30, 7.30pm. Tickets are £15 & £13.50. More info and tickets here.