Edinburgh Fringe 2016 Review: Ada/ Ava

Manual Cinema’s cinematic shadow puppet show is a brilliant example of visual storytelling, says


As an exercise in visual storytelling, Ada/Ava is executed brilliantly. Working live in front of (and visible to) their audience, director Drew Dir and his team of puppeteers arrange paper puppets and various layers of transparent film onto four old-school projectors, or else use props to obscure the shapes of their silhouettes before the images are all projected together onto a screen above them. In spite of a medium that could limit an artist to two dimensions, Ada/ Ava manages to utilise its ‘camera’ with a cinematic control absent from many fully produced films. Without the need for spoken dialogue, the production is able to communicate not just narrative, but also atmosphere and thematic concerns simply through its visuals.

Aesthetically, Ada/Ava holds more in common with the world of indie videogames or some comic books than what might be expected from a live performance. That does not mean, however, that the production feels preprogrammed or rigid. On the contrary, while I do suspect part of the reason the projectors and puppets are clearly visible to the audience is to assure us that nothing is animated, the whole thing feels dynamic and alive. Little details, such as having a second puppet/ performer portraying Ada’s (consequently imperfect) reflection, bring an uncanniness even before the production moves more explicitly into the supernatural.

The music, co-composed by Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter, serves as an appropriate accompaniment to these visuals. In many ways it is the emotional core of the performance, helping to bring life to the paper puppets and filling the silence left by the absence of dialogue. The performances of Maren Celest, Alex Ellsworth and Vegter (on vocals and clarinet; vocals, guitar and synthesizer; and cello respectively) are all assured in their execution: they complement the visual storytelling without distracting from it.

The sound design in general was very good, applied live throughout by Celest. I would have been hard pressed to realise the sound effects were being applied live if it weren’t for the cast’s visibility to the audience. Moreso than with the music, where live performance will always draw some attention to itself, the sound effects meld seamlessly in with the visuals.

Ada/ Ava, besides being original in both its technical and narrative conceits, is consistently well carried out. It has elements that will appeal to theatre lovers and cinephiles alike, as well as plenty of charm and tension to make the whole experience enjoyable for any viewer. As far as I know there isn’t another production like it (at this year’s fringe at least) and it is definitely worth checking out.

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