This coming-of-age show from Chicago-based Manual Cinema (designed and directed by Julia Miller, Sarah Fornace and Drew Dir) is old-made-new, a show that embraces the timeless magic of shadow puppetry but updates it with a whole rake of more recent technologies. And it’s not afraid to show you exactly how it’s all done.
The brainchild of Miller, who adapted the idea from an original text by Brendan Hill, Lula Del Ray tells the story of Lula (Fornace), who lives in a caravan in the desert with her mother (Miller). Her mother is caretaker of a field of radio telescopes and lonely Lula spends her evenings staring wistfully into the starry desert sky, dreaming of space travel, until her crackly transistor radio brings her the mesmerising music of the Baden Brothers.
Determined to meet her new idols, she tears her gaze away from the stars and sets off for the bright lights of the city instead, a journey that brings her to a realisation about what’s really important in her life.
The slow-paced story magically unfolds on the screen accompanied by an intricate and exquisite live soundscape (beautifully performed by Kyle Vegter, Ben Kauffman, Michael Hilger and Maran Celest). But the real magic (perversely) lies in seeing how it’s all done. It’s as if Oz has been exposed but instead of shouting “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” he invites us to marvel at the wizardry.
Actors and puppeteers (Fornace, Miller, Lizi Breit and Sam Deutsch) rush from screen to screen, using their own silhouettes alongside paper cut-outs, transparencies and photographs to create a DIY version of various cinematic techniques.
There are long shots of Lula sitting on the dish of a telescope that “zoom in” to close-ups of her face tilted towards the moon. There are pan shots moving from Lula’s mother flicking control-panel switches at one end of the caravan to Lula doodling in her bedroom at the other end. There are aerial shots from the top of a skyscraper and double exposures of Lula in the big city, surrounded by advertising billboards.
Lula Del Ray is like the love-child of Lotte Reiniger and Wes Anderson with all the visual artistry and fairytale magic that one might expect from such a union. It’s incredibly ingenious and utterly unusual: Manual Cinema has invented a new genre.
Lula Del Ray is showing at Her Majesty’s Theatre until March 16 and is recommended for ages 12+.