Review: Manual Cinema’s Lula Del Ray

It’s the 1950s (or looks like the ‘50s) in this shadow puppet and silhouette world created by Manual Cinema, the Chicago collective who make live cinema using overhead projectors and shadows.

Lula lives in the desert with her mother in a very kitsch caravan. Her mother monitors the huge satellites nearby. Lula seems to be content with this isolated world; she plays with rockets, reads Space magazine and constantly looks to the stars and dreams of conquering outer space. But first she must contend with another alien landscape that is much closer to home.

Her interest in the moon and planets disappears when she encounters the Baden Brothers on the radio, a smooth country and western duo that would be called alt-country in today’s world. She obsesses over them. Her mother isn’t impressed. They fight. And she leaves her satellite desert for the big city, hoping to meet her idols.

The city is not just frightening for Lula; it’s also presents a culture clash. In the desert she was free to daydream and intellectually pursue her interests, in the city she is bombarded with consumerism. It’s a different world. An alien world. And where the hell are those Baden Brothers?

While not as humorous or as engaging as Manual Cinema’s children’s show The Magic City, Lula Del Ray is the more ingenious and ethereal of the two productions. With basically no words, and a brilliant live band to soundtrack the show, the expressions and motivations of the characters are showcased via exaggerated movements by the actors and puppets (the actors wear masks to make them look more puppet-like on the screen, and move like puppets as well).

In this impressive shadow world there are some nice cinematic nods to auteurs such as John Ford (the desert landscape) and David Lynch (the drug-haze dreamlike appearances of the Baden Brothers) and the show’s finale (enhanced by a beautiful song) is quite spectacular.

Lula Del Ray continues at Her Majesty’s Theatre until March 16.

Tickets available through Bass

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