By Jen Bolsover
Beautiful, chilling and quietly heartbreaking, Ada/Ava is the brainchild of Chicago-based Manual Cinema. Audience members of a certain age may have flashbacks to primary school assemblies when they walk in and see a row of old-fashioned overhead projectors, but all such recollections are quickly dispelled when the projected images come to life and the magic begins.
Twin sisters Ada and Ava live alone and isolated, tending a clifftop lighthouse and whiling away the evenings playing chess together. When Ava dies, Ada is at a loss. She visits a travelling carnival, drawn to it by childhood memories, and in the Hall of Mirrors she plunges into an unsettling, multi-layered experience that could be a grief-fuelled fantasy or a nightmarish horror story.
The execution is phenomenally impressive. Even though all the shadow puppetry is carried out live and in full view of the audience, it’s easy to forget that this isn’t a pre-recorded animation. With nothing more than silhouettes, the skilful company of puppeteers creates a huge range of visual effects – close-ups, focus pulls, all sorts of clever forced perspectives. It’s very, very beautiful, and when coupled with a neatly-structured story of loss and sisterly love, it’s a show that leaves very little room for improvement – if any at all.