Where to start with this magical piece of multimedia performance? The live music that accompanies it. Or perhaps the awe of watching the live performers interact with the projected puppets? Or the breathtaking skill of the projectionists who mastermind the whole performance by constantly changing and layering intricate bits of acetate on the three overhead projectors. Considering the length of the last sentence, it’s probably the projectionists.
With the use of nearly 300 shadow puppets the moving story of Ada/Ava emerges onscreen. These ageing spinster twins have spent their lives in each other’s constant company. They live on the edges of town, their house close to the lighthouse whose light it is the sisters’ responsibility to look after and replace. Just like the opening sequence from Pixar’s ‘Up!’ the storytelling makes it clear that one of the sisters will end up alone.
When Ava dies, Ada finds it hard to continue living. Just like Tony Harrison’s poem ‘Long Distance’ the daily routines of life are hard to carry out when half of you is missing. So sometimes it’s easier to pretend the loved one isn’t gone at all. This is when Manual Cinema seem to move on to Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ for influence. Lost in grief, Ada revisits places she and Ava spent time together as children.
One of those places is the fairground, and Ada wanders through the rides and the happy families like a shadow lost to her memories. She finds herself drawn to the hall of mirrors, a chance to see the lost part of herself reflected many times over. Just like Vertigo’s famous opening credits, Manual Cinema take on the swirling movements of Saul Bass’ graphics and Ada becomes trapped in the hall of mirrors, but also trapped in her despair.
We now journey into a sequence that is more like a Tim Burton film, seeing Ada’s deepest needs and worst fears enacted in an other-worldly realm; a sort of mix between Orpheus’ underworld and an Angela Carter novel. In this world Ada brings Ava back, but she cannot hold death off forever. In this other-worldly place Ada is drawn to her own death, and just like the tower in Vertigo, Ada is drawn to the lighthouse.
Without entirely ruining the story, the Manual Cinema ensemble don’t leave Ada in her world of despair, and this deeply affecting performance ends with a sense of acceptance and peacefulness. This is a truly remarkable show; so full of talent and filled with so many points of cultural reference. If you manage to catch it before the ensemble go back to Chicago (which you should) and you spot any other influences then use the comment box below to share your thoughts!