Lula del Ray by Manual Cinema

Wed 2nd – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Abi Newton

at 12:41 on 10th Aug 2017

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Having never seen a professional puppet show, I couldn’t help but come to ‘Lula del Ray’ with slight preconceptions of puppetry as something reserved for children’s entertainment, fearing that the emotional weightiness of drama would be somehow shallower in the absence of facial features or spoken dialogue. I was proved completely wrong.

‘Lula del Ray’ is a “live cinematic puppet show” by the Chicago-based performance crew Manual Cinema, a troupe known for their use of vintage equipment, handmade puppets, and fusion of visual mediums. This year marks their second appearance at the Fringe, and the UK premiere of Lula del Ray. The magic of the performance is owed in part to the fact that the crew were visible onstage as they moved around different puppets and backdrops, played music, and acted wearing masks. Two shows were being performed at once: the projection of the story on-screen, and the actors, puppeteers, and musicians below. It was as like taking off the front panel of a grandfather clock, and watching all the gears turning inside as handles spin. Captivating, though it did cause the issue that I frequently got distracted by the performers and missed chunks of the plot. Even when focusing on the mechanics of the performance, I still wasn’t quite sure how they were producing the effects on-film as they happened – the movements felt so seamless that at times I had to remind myself the show hadn’t been pre-recorded.

The success of the visual performance was strengthened by the excellent music and sound effects, arranged by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman. The near-perfect coordination between the effects on-screen with the accompanying sound effects allowed the show to run smoothly, sidestepping any disruption of the performance’s magic. The music also carried the soul of the show – the lonesome, mournful yet energetic songs of the fictional Bauden Brothers, the band Lula falls in love with after catching a fragment of their song on a shaky television broadcast, lift Lula into Peter Pan-like dreams across the stars. In the audience you too are transported to this fantastical place, remembering all of songs that comforted you in the knowledge that you weren’t alone.

At its core, ‘Lula del Ray’ is a coming-of-age story about the tragedy of miscommunication between mother and daughter, and of yearning for and finding connection and love for others in the world. With ‘Lula’, you feel joy and grief as she does, her ache for someone to reach out to, her fear as she steps into a bustling world she does not understand. Even in the extra-terrestrial, technicolour, enigmatic world Lula inhabits, her home a trailer on the edge of a field of satellite dishes, her story feels astoundingly familiar. There wasn’t quite the moment of catharsis I was waiting for in the resolution of the mother and daughter’s relationship, and in this regard it felt unfortunately rushed. This, however, could be owing to the performance’s nuance in a choice not to show easy solutions to complicated problems. It tells us that the way we hope for things is never the way they turn out to be, and this is what makes ‘Lula del Ray’ so moving. This is a production that stands out for its ingenuity, humanity, and ability to immerse you in a wholly fantastical world.

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Zoe Boothby

at 12:53 on 10th Aug 2017

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A powerful tale of escapism, Manual Cinema’s ‘Lula Del Ray’ is a must-see this Edinburgh Fringe; especially for those seeking out something a little bit different. Told using three overhead projectors, the show is a work of live shadow puppet theatre with musical accompaniment, blending sublime visuals with a haunting and evocative soundtrack.

‘Lula Del Ray’ tells the story of a mother (Julia Miller) and her daughter, Lula (Sarah Fornace), and their quiet life together in a caravan on a rural desert plain in mid 20th-Century America. The show explores their growing estrangement as they dabble in different forms of escapism: her mother preoccupies herself with her work with satellites and desire to communicate with space, whilst Lula becomes obsessed with a country duo, The Baden Brothers, and travels to New York in hope of seeing them perform.

It is a testament to the fluidity of the team working the overhead projectors that, though at first I was unsuccessfully trying to work out how they were pulling off this incredible feat, I very shortly relaxed into the narrative, and simply allowed myself to be enchanted by the performance in front of me. A special mention must be given to the two ‘actors’ of the piece. Although only using their silhouette to act out the entire story, both Fornace and Miller were able to convey the range of human emotion required, whether sadness, yearning, isolation, or loneliness. It is their portrayals which make ‘Lula Del Ray’ as moving a theatrical experience as it is, and allow such a technically complex work to transcend into a realm of profundity.

It seems appropriate that a show exploring the fantasy of escapism triggered by the claustrophobia of home would take place in an intimate lecture hall. The show was sold-out on the afternoon I visited, so booking is highly recommended. The venue was well-suited to the use of surround sound to create an immersive experience, helping the audience to focus solely on the projection, rather than the people working tirelessly to create it. However, despite the obvious importance of visuals in a puppet-show, it must be stated that the aural aspects of Lula Del Ray were equally arresting: the on-stage musical accompaniments perfectly matched with the whimsical storytelling on screen. Lizi Breit’s cello complimented the melancholic tone of the narrative, whilst Maren Celest and Michael Hilger’s vocals provided some verbal support to the piece.

Ultimately, Manual Cinema have conceived a piece of storytelling that is at once beautifully simple and remarkably complex, with the juxtaposition of cosmic, urban, rural and classic ‘American’ imagery combining to create a beautiful presentation of family life on the margins. Though an audience member may never quite be able to grasp the mechanics of the technology on display, they will undoubtedly be able to understand the rawness of human emotion which lies at the heart of this show.

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