Paper Story - Laterna magika for the little ones
“Mummy, write that it was amazing!” urge both my children (4 and 6 years old), who I took with me as a litmus test for Paper Story – the first production by Laterna magika under new creative direction. Radim Vizváry and his team prepared an hour long fantasy of movement for the youngest of audiences, and they definitely managed to entertain them. He even convinced me, a more mature and demanding audience member, that even the oldest jokes and tricks can seem fresh if they are presented tastefully, masterfully and with an enthusiasm for complex stage work.
Paper Story (Z. Herényiová, P. Čermák, J. Panský, M. Petrák, P. Červíčková, T. Kučerová, A. Sadirov). Photo: Patrik Borecký.
This is the most valuable thing for a new production. Well thought through dramaturgy with one eye on the young audience, skillfully combining comic and poetic moments. It brilliantly utilises the main thematic prop - paper - in every manner and manifestation imaginable. It mixes the proven methods and etudes of classical pantomime with well-loved street comedy sketches and circus acrobatics. It plays on the wonder and awe of the little ones thanks to the magic of black theatre and by combining video with live action, also piqueing the imagination of the more mature spectators through improvisation with props and offers adults a humorous interpretation of the creation of the earth. It does not shock or cause upset, and yet avoids coming across as shallow.
I tip my hat to the collation of all the elements - Ivo Sedláček’s dream melodies and jingles didn’t just serve as background music but also took on the role of narrator and co-star, as did Karel Šimek’s lighting design which placed the audience in a spellbound mood without losing any depth or lightness. Matyáš Ramba's choreographic interventions were rather functional and without great invention, which is a shame considering the ensemble’s history, his dance expression has always been of the highest quality, but in the context of this piece it fulfilled its purpose. Marek Cpin’s staging reflected the naivety and absurdity of the individual scenes, but even this didn’t rise above the other creative elements. Above all, I must acknowledge the restraint and moderation shown in Marie Procházková’s projections and animations, who reminds me of the famous stars of animation from the former Gottwaldov studios, which inspire through their beautiful simplicity and leave enough space for one’s own creative vision. All the parts came together exactly how Laterna magika should be. What’s more, they avoid kitsch and cliché, something which has haunted experimental authors on this stage in recent years.
The alpha and omega is charisma
As is always the case with non-verbal theatre, the success of the performance lay in the hands of the individual performers. The acting, the accuracy and finesse of the facial expression, the placement of gags, comedic timing, as well as honing in on the audience’s energy, all rests on the shoulders of the performers. Especially, in this case, on the actor playing the main role of ‘the boy’, Matěj Petrák. He combined unquestionable mimic talent with natural humour and immediately won over all the children present. By the second premiere it was obvious which passages he had totally lived and breathed and which pre-learned gestures he stiffly stumbled through. However, the potential for acting growth is huge here and clearly after a few run-throughs he’ll find his own distinctive style, even in those scenes which have been passed down through generations, where inevitably the performances of other bards of Czech pantomime will come to mind. It would be interesting to compare his interpretation with that of Vizváry himself, with whom he alternates the main role, since at the moment we can discern his influence in the boy’s movements, which doesn’t always suit Petrák perfectly.
A big factor in the energy of the piece is also the six-member choir of paper elves, who help the boy share his creative enthusiasm and realise his paper dreams. This role also demands the constant utilisation of acting as well as mime, which the dancer managed with great aplomb, at which point we realise how different pantomime is from dance. Amongst everyone, it is imperative that I highlight Zuzana Herényiová and Patrik Čermák, who embodied the imps with their entire being, without hesitation or let up, and who, to a large extent, infected others with their energy. As with the protagonist, it’s also true that in this case that with each performance, the dancers will feel more and more at ease and instead of wooden grimaces they found their much needed inner comedian.
Vizváry definitely performed a miracle at Laterna Magika, even just for the little ones, through the inclusion of this tasteful piece into the National Theatre’s repertoire, where this line was never quite satisfied. Through his distinctive manner he recast naive theatre in the world of magic, even managing to impress the parental chaperones. The playfulness of this successful performance could have been made even more magical for the younger audience members through greater interactivity and involvement, as is common practice for theatres and ensembles aimed at children. On the way home from the theatre I had to sacrifice a few pages from my diary so that the kids could immediately record the experience in their own work, and although I appreciate the inventive programme booklet, you do need scissors to make use of it. One further wish would be for a more affordable entrance fee since Paper Story is currently the most expensive hour-long cultural experience in Prague for this age group.
Written after the second premiere on the 25th June 2021, at The New Stage, National Theatre in Prague.
Theme, script and direction: Radim Vizváry
Staging and costume: Marek Cpin
Music: Ivo Sedláček
Choreography: Matyáš Ramba
Lighting design: Karel Šimek
Amination and projection: Maria Procházková
Translation: Aaron Bohlman