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paper angels

Paper Angels

Dorothy Max Prior
sees a quirky contemporary take on toy theatres and paper cuts

Maria Lloyd is an enterprising woman. Trained in physical theatre at the Lecoq school in Paris, she has subsequently worked in many ways, using many means, including devised visual theatre, cabaret, dance, and film. She always has a number of interesting projects running concurrently, and one of those is Red Angel, which I saw as a work-in-progress, presented at Shunt Vaults under London Bridge (a deep, dark and cavernous space under the railway station which is managed and curated by the Shunt theatre collective). This was in November 2006, the show now awaiting further development.

Red Angel is a piece about dimensions, both literal and metaphorical. On the literal level, it explores the relationship between 2D and 3D, between graphic representation and plasticity, between visual and performing arts. On a metaphorical (and perhaps even metaphysical) level, it investigates ‘here’ versus ‘there’, the spaces between the visible and the invisible, the Bardo of Becoming between the living and the dead, the limbo between heaven and earth (with a nod to hell now and again), and the pot holes in the space-time continuum.

Red Angel takes advantage of the opportunities offered by the site, with its many chambers and passageways, to explore notions of spaces hidden within spaces. The piece is inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall, and subject matter and iconography show strong evidence of that starting point.

One of the most unusual and intriguing aspects of the piece is its use of toy theatre, and of paper costumes and scenery. If (as [link to:] Horatio Blood points out in this edition of Animations) one of the appealing characteristics of the toy theatre is its reflection of and relationship to the ‘real’ theatre world, then Red Angel is no doubt an interesting subversion of that classical relationship!

The piece starts with a very charming, darkly funny and (in a surreal sort of way) rather disturbing enactment of a story of premature death using a toy puppet theatre. I asked Maria why she used the toy theatre and she said, “We used it as a metaphor for life, the girl dies and the angel character rolls the theatre of life away from her… I found that the small paper theatre is an excellent vehicle for conveying large tragedies. Little paper theatres are really beautiful; they still hold that magical world that I have lost, as an adult. I’d like to live inside there, and be surrounded by magic again.” Toy theatres are a kind of repository for history, often the only record of performances long gone. In Maria’s show we see another aspect of the toy theatre as a holding space for something no longer there: an enactment of a life lost, a wistful reference to a childhood left behind.

The baton is then passed from toy theatre puppets made from paper to actors wearing two-dimensional paper costumes, as post-death our heroine crosses the River Styx into the next world. There is a lovely transitional moment as she (Maria Lloyd) bursts through a paper wall into the next dimension.

The audience follows her into a new space in which she is finding her feet – or perhaps wings – as a newly fledged angel. Here in this dimension she meets a variety of other characters, all of whom are similarly stranded in the spaces in-between worlds.

As a work-in-progress, it is a piece which is already well-developed in many ways: most noticeably in the thorough investigation of the nature of limbo, and (on a practical level) in the scenography of the piece: the beautiful visual motifs, many of which develop the paper idea (such as Magali Charrier’s projection of a London street map over which angels swoop and hover); the lighting design by Shunt’s Mischa Twitchin; and the paper costume designs and wonderful toy theatre itself.

I asked Maria what it is about paper that she particularly likes:

“I was a very serious child and very early on I thought dolls were too childish, but now I love puppets and paper dolls, so I am catching up.
I love paper because its beauty lasts for only a moment, because of its fragility – and yet the everyday is ever present. The Red Angel costumes made out of tissue paper had a fantastic luminous quality which corresponded perfectly with the theme of Chagall.”

On the question of dimensions (literal and metaphorical), Maria had this to say:

“For the Red Angel piece we used large-scale 2D cardboard cut-out props and costumes for the scenes whilst the heroine was in denial of her situation. 3D costumes were used when she was in Limbo, but present and aware within that state.”

I asked Maria what else she might be planning. Apart from a hope that it will be possible to fund and develop Red Angel, were there any other paper projects in the pipeline?

“This week’s paper project is making a Sari out of tissue paper for my Indian performer, next week’s paper challenge is to make dresses out of maps, with the thought of being enveloped by the world. I am also planning a choreography where the dancer’s paper dress is on fire…”

And does she have any final thoughts on where this might all end?

“I have a quote from my notebook kept whilst making Red Angel: ‘For centuries people thought the world was flat, now we think it is round. I wonder what will be the next discovery?’”

See clips of Maria's films Left or Right for Love? and Minou under Our Films at:

Her next film project is Salt a British/Polish collaboration, which will be screened in Shunt Vaults in 2008. See:


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