Theatre review: Ada/Ava By Manual Cinema

Cultured Fringe reviews reader that you are, you're no doubt already familiar with the notion of shadow play: delicately-crafted paper cut-outs held in front of a light, their actions projected on to a screen for audiences to admire and enjoy.

By turns light and dark, Ada/Ava tackles weighty themes with varied cut-out techniques. Picture: Contributed
By turns light and dark, Ada/Ava tackles weighty themes with varied cut-out techniques. Picture: Contributed

Rating: ****

Venue: Underbelly Potterrow (Venue 358)

Manual Cinema take that process several steps further, employing an array of cut-out techniques, multiple projectors for swift scene transitions and special effects, a live score and “real life cut-outs” – actors wearing 2D prosthetics to enhance their natural silhouettes.

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    Watching the behind-the-scenes creation of these elements is so absorbing that you’ll sometimes forget to watch the final result coming together on-screen.

    The wordless Ada/Ava follows two elderly sisters who live in a storm-battered lighthouse, and tackles weighty themes such as friendship, loneliness, sisterhood and mortality. Like all the best Pixar movies (and indeed, the best Fringe puppetry shows – it’s in a similar vein to The Last Great Hunt’s rightly celebrated The Adventures Of Alvin Sputnik, Deep Sea Explorer), Ada/Ava knows when to handle such themes with a lightness of touch and when not to flinch away from scenes of absolute horror.

    Designer/director Drew Dir clearly knows his movie history – the skewed, distorted angles of some set pieces take their cues from German expressionist filmmakers, while his terrifying close-ups of everyday objects – particularly tooth- and hairbrush bristles – bring to mind Hitchcock’s knife shots in Psycho.

    Yet, as with many Fringe performances, it’s the imperfect moments that resonate most strongly – on the few occasions where a papercut backdrop slips a fraction of an inch (often serendipitously enhancing what’s on screen), we’re reminded of the immense level of co-­ordination it takes to animate every moving part of this intricate machine.

    Despite the name, Manual Cinema shouldn’t be accused of merely replicating film – they’re capturing something far more human than that.

    • Until 29 August. Today 4pm