Theatre / Reviews

Review: The Paper Cinema (Puppet Fest)

By natalie burns, Friday Aug 28, 2015

Think back to when you were a small child, to a time when you could create exciting worlds of adventure and menace simply with your imagination. The earth was too big to contemplate, and so the tiny intricacies of your small corner of it were intriguing enough to command your undivided attention. 

It’s usually impossible to feel that level of excitement and wonder as an adult. The big things get in the way.

That’s one of the many reasons that The Paper Cinema is so unique and wonderful. Last night’s Bristol Festival of Puppetry opener at Watershed (three short ‘films’ animated by paper puppeteers, and projected onto the big screen with incredible technical skill) made me feel like a child again, full of unbridled imagination.

The short animations – The Night Flyer, King Pest (based around Edgar Allan Poe’s tale) and Rock Charmer – consisted of mainly black and white drawings by animator Nicholas Rawling, with a shock of bright colour and coloured light on occasion, lovingly cut out and mounted to create a puppet show like no other. 

The puppeteers used these painstakingly delicate sketches to create three absorbing and surreal worlds in which a silent story, with a beautiful score, unfolded before the enthralled audience. With heavy nods to Dadaism and Surrealism, tiny, boldly drawn characters took us on a journey through prisons, outer space and perilous seas to fantastical lands of stone giants and high-speed train chases

The puppeteers used layering brilliantly to create depth and speed, and coloured lighting to create atmosphere and suspense, working with the paper characters flawlessly and exactingly to tell us their tales. The whole performance was completely immersive, captivating and enchanting. You couldn’t help but be drawn in by their childlike ability to take an idea so naive and simple and to have the obsessive, pedantic and enviable confidence to turn it into something so beautiful. 

The Paper Cinema is a rare and unique experience. It’s like a half-remembered dream you had as a child that absorbs you completely, leaving you undistracted by anything else. Like the characters, you are lost at sea, in a world where anything can happen. I left feeling happy and excited in a way I haven’t been since I was a kid: The Paper Cinema reminds us that the small things are beautiful, and lets us forget that being an adult sometimes isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The perfect launch to the ever-intriguing Bristol Festival of Puppetry.

Bristol Festival of Puppetry continues until Sunday, September 6 at various venues. For more info, visit and see our preview here.

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