Ada Ava

Wed 3rd – Fri 19th August 2016


Lizzie Buckman

at 00:51 on 6th Aug 2016



Manual Cinema have been performing and honing 'Ada/Ava' since 2010, and though this is their debut appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe, their expertise is instantly evident from the precision and ingenuity of their production. They advertise themselves as live cinematic shadow puppetry, which could easily leave the non-expert perplexed, yet once in the theatre it became apparent that this is a performance for everyone, expert or inexpert, young or old.

This non-verbal tale takes the audience through the mourning process of Ada (Julia Vanarsdale Miller) after the death of her sister Ava (Lizi Breit). But what begins as nostalgia, soon brings her spiralling down a supernatural and phantasmal journey through memory and melancholy. The performance is both cinema and theatre: a film is created live before the audiences' eyes. The three actors are supported by live musicians, vintage projectors, and around four hundred shadow puppets, silhouettes and cut outs, to create a film which is profoundly moving and surreal. Arguably 'Ada/Ava' has the ability to be shown as a stand-alone film, but it is the theatrical exposure of the process that pushes this show from charming to outstanding.

The actors interact with the shadows projected onto a screen with unnerving precision, and the performance is littered with delightfully delicate small touches (the narrowing of a silhouette’s eyes, a flash of lightning) that make you smile. I struggle to believe that Manual Cinema have managed to draw quite such a dynamic and fast paced show out of two dimensional inanimate materials.

A special mention must also go to the musicians Maren Celest, Michael Hilger and Kyle Vegter. They create powerful soundscapes to accompany the cinema, and Celest’s soft jazz vocals complement the melancholic tone of the production seamlessly. The collaborative nature of the production, from conception to performance, is maintained on stage as the ensemble worked together with breathtaking unity.

Perhaps one of the most charming touches of the show actually came after it had finished, when Kyle Vegter invited the audience onto the stage to look at the performance equipment, puppets and talk to the ensemble. The Chicago-based troupe seemed genuinely excited to share the process with their audience, and making the process tangible really emphasised the scale of what Manual Cinema have achieved.

'Ada/Ava' is executed with delicacy, poise and heart, and is one of those few shows which feels truly special to have witnessed.


Julia O'Driscoll

at 08:44 on 6th Aug 2016



ADA/AVA is an exquisite amalgamation of shadow puppetry, live music, acting, and film. It is performed by Manual Cinema, company which toys explicitly with the boundaries between film and theatre. The stage is transformed into the puppeteers’ work bench: it comprises of four overhead projectors, four hundred silhouettes, and a large screen upon which the resulting images are projected to the audience. These different elements come together to tell the story of Ada and Ava.

We are introduced to the elderly twin sisters in their quiet home, where they lead a simply content life of routine together. When Ava suddenly dies, Ada’s daily habits become seeped with memories, and her grief distorts the world she inhabits with terrifying dreams and disillusions. Life and death seem to interweave, as the puppeteers and musicians dance between one and the other. Turbulent storms, the sea, a carnival and a mirror maze are all settings and obstacles which the company traverse with the same even pace, never once interrupting the story’s fluidity.

The attention to detail is faultless in all aspects. Every sound effect is subtle in its realism, and the design of each silhouette shows great care and consideration – the string of a balloon twisting in the wind was a moment of pure simplicity in effect, and complexity in design. Yet there are also moments that are strikingly bold in contrast to this delicacy, as vivid colours and exaggerated, pop-art-esque images invade the subtlety of the largely monochromatic scenes.

The overall effect is mesmerising. It is hard to know where to direct your eyes at any one time, out of sheer fascination for how all the separate aspects come together. The whole company are on stage throughout, constantly watching and reacting to each other, the puppets, the final overhead images. Yet this is not invasive or distracting; rather, the constant movement and communication of the group becomes integral to the performance. Nothing is hidden from the audience, who are even invited on set after the show, to try out the various techniques for themselves. Only then can you realise just how intricate ADA/AVA is.

This is a show unique in its message, bold in its experimentation, and superb in its execution. One not to miss!


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