Ada/Ava by Manual Cinema (3 stars)

Shadow-puppet cinema that's breathtaking technically but falls down on storytelling and character

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Are We Stronger Than Winston?

It's a hugely elaborate set-up that Chicago-based Manual Cinema have for their touching live-movie fable Ada/Ava. Two actors, three shadow puppeteers manipulating overhead projectors, three musician/sound artists, laptops, mixing desk, even two big projection screens – one for the actors to interact with, the other for us to watch the combined results of all these elements. It's a bit like the UK's own Paper Cinema (at Forest Fringe for a few dates this festival) on steroids.

And in technical terms, those results are simply breathtaking, with a whole panoply of cinematic effects – close-ups, crosscuts, fades and more – conjured subtly by the ensemble's intricate manual interactions, and actors relating magically with projected images, shadows and more. It's a wonder to behold.

But all the technical complexity also tends to overshadow the show's simpler issues of plot, character and tone. Ada/Ava is a delicate story of an elderly woman struggling to come to terms with the death of her twin sister, but the show falls rather awkwardly between poignant family drama and macabre chiller, with an uneven pacing that sometimes overemphasises the grotesquerie, yet is seldom filled by much telling character nuance. Go to be wowed by the astonishing technical accomplishment, but don't be disappointed if you don't feel that moved.

Underbelly Potterrow, until 29 Aug (not 16), 4pm, £12–£13 (£11–£12).

Ada/Ava by Manual Cinema

  • 3 stars

Underbelly Productions and Manual Cinema 'Manual Cinema is talent incarnate' (Time Out). 'This Chicago troupe is conjuring phantasms to die for in an unclassifiable story of spectral beauty' (New York Times). Manual Cinema uses hundreds of shadow puppets, overhead projectors, actors and live music to tell a story of…

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