The Man Who Fed Butterflies
Sporadically phenomenal spectacle lacks magic of theatre
This article is from 2010.
Something Pixar, with their melange of spacemen, rat and sea creature protagonists, seem to have worked out fairly early on in the game is that it’s very difficult to emphathise with a CGI human face. The reason the human characters in the Toy Story films are largely kept sidelined is because their patently unreal features, so similar to those of their toys, make it difficult to continue suspending disbelief, where the slick CG edges of the walking, talking playthings do not.
That ‘unrealness’ is one of the main problems with The Man Who Fed Butterflies, one of two interconnected productions by Teatro Cinema (literally, Theatre Cinema) a new company who have set themselves the task of creating a new art form that merges both genres. As with the more cinematic Sin Sangre, which is showing in rotation, four actors stand in a tiny space between two gauzes, onto which an entire, ever-shifting landscape is projected. Essentially, with close-ups and zooms. The level of CGI technology itself is sporadically phenomenal, and has attracted a great deal of critical attention from reviewers of an age to be impressed. Children of the 1980s and 1990s, though, may be uncomfortably reminded of the shonkily-graphicked ITV series Knightmare at times.
When it works, the technique allows some phenomenal jumps and shifts between scenes and settings, and the way the live actors are continuously, seamlessly integrated into the effects, and manage to hit their mark every time is certainly worth applauding. But the actors themselves, wearing rubber masks to match their digital selves, movements hampered by their tiny performance space and any emotion in their delivery handed over to one of those inscrutable CGI close up faces, seem almost superfluous in this pixelated landscape. There’s no room for spontanaeity in their performances, which have to be precision-timed to hit the pre-created film, which really begs the question -- why is this a live event at all
At the heart of The Man Who Fed Butterflies’ intertwined narrative is a sweet fairytale about love and hope; and the moment where the eponymous character encounters a multitude of butterflies is beautifully realised, but this reviewer has seen simpler theatre pieces create far more involving, affecting and awe-inspiring shifts in tone and place using simply plain old theatricality and an audience willing to suspend that disbelief. It’s fantastic that companies are pushing towards a greater integration of digital technology with the live experience, and that we have an International Festival still prepared to take risks like this, but when every nuance and scene jump is spelled out in this way, some of the magic is lost.
‘I prefer theatre!’ yells one of the characters towards the end. Yeah, me too.
Edinburgh International Festival, King’s Theatre, run ended