Ada and Ava are twin sisters. We first meet them in their home as elderly ladies, taking tea as the clock tick-tocks. But are they both really here? Where does one self end and another begin? It transpires that Ava is dead and Ada is holding tight to her memory. The mourning is a painful affair, and we sit sadly with Ada and watch the kettle boil.

It is a dark and stormy night, and as the lightning strikes and the thunder crashes, Ada (and we with her) are thrown into a world of dreams, memories and fantasies. Or are they? Perhaps Ada really does head off down the hill on her bicycle (the tandem now sadly no longer needed) to go to the carnival fairground and get herself locked overnight in the Mirror Maze…

Back we swirl in time to see Ada and Ava as little girls on a seaside trip, dipping their toes in the waves. Then, we are propelled back to Ada as an old lady – but now the twin sister she is sharing her life with has a skeleton’s hands and feet, and a skull head that needs a wig to hide the bony truth. In this new scary version of her familiar world, toothbrushes and hairbrushes have a life of their own, and no matter how hard Ada tries to persuade her sister to return to the grave, she’s having none of it.

We experience all of this fantastical, supernatural wonderment through a plethora of live and mediated imagery. Two actor-puppeteers (Lizi Breit and  Julia VanArsdale Miller) play Ada and Ava live in front of a screen, their shadow images projected (with no digital manipulation, so reversed out) on an even larger screen above and in front of them. But that is only part of the story…

Ada/Ava, created by Manual Cinema from Chicago, is a magnificent artistic and technical achievement, in which gorgeously crafted shadow puppetry (using handmade black-block silhouette figures); live-actor mask and shadow theatre; cinematic techniques making use of vintage projectors, two large screens, OHPs and live-feed cameras; and live music combine.

Everything we see and hear in this completely word-free show is made, here and now, in front of our astonished eyes. For UK audiences, the points of reference might be some sort of amalgam of the work of Paper Cinema and 1927. Coloured acetates in a beautiful palette of charcoal greys, faded indigos, Indian yellows, and Northern Lights greens form the backdrops, onto which the gorgeously crafted silhouettes of skylines, or trees, or kitchen hobs, are placed. Ada and Ava, appearing either as the shadows of the actors or as tiny little shadow-puppet figures, depending on the scene, move within this cleverly created background scene. We see the ‘making of’ as well as witnessing the final result simultaneously. The two actor-puppeteers (who move back and forth from performing in front of the back-lit rear screen to the OHP light-boxes, never resting) are joined by a further three puppeteers/visual artists on stage. They are augmented by three musicians (cello/electric piano, guitar, clarinet/vocals, plus live Foley sound effects) give us  a couple of beautiful jazz tunes (All of Me, and the Duke Ellington classic Solitude) as well as providing all of the rest of the soundscape.

A breathtakingly beautiful and clever show that explores the fear of the shadow of death with gentle humour. There is so much to see on stage and screen and in between – I could easily watch it again and again.


Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer working in theatre, dance, live art and street arts. Under her alter-ego Dorothy’s Shoes she creates performance work that both honours and usurps the traditions of popular dance and theatre, and plays with the relationship between performer and audience. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She is also co-director of street theatre/dance company The Ragroof Players.

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