Manipulate: 12 years of puppetry, poetry and provocative performance
- Gareth K Vile
- 22 January 2019
Annual celebration of innovative visual theatre returns with another exciting lineup
The evolution of the manipulate festival of visual theatre has seen it develop from its roots in puppetry and more physical forms of performance into an annual celebration of international and Scottish theatre that pushes at the boundaries of form, entertains and reimagines apparently familiar ideas and stories, lending them an urgent, contemporary meaning and relevance. Artistic director Simon Hart has pursued this vision for over a decade, and throughout this time has supported Scottish artists - both through workshops and main-stage productions - while exposing audiences to the best of visual theatre from around the world.
'One of Puppet Animation Scotland's central roles is to support Scottish-based theatre-makers to develop great work,' Hart explains. 'I think it's vitally important that we provide regular opportunities for companies and artists to present their work successfully at manipulate, be that an initial creative idea in our Snapshots series, or more substantially realised pieces in our Rising Voices programme, all the way to finished productions ready for national and international touring.'
For 2019, Scotland is represented by Karl Jay-Lewin and Matteo Fargion, Glasgow's Tidy Carnage, Mele Broomes, whose Void has already shaken audiences both at Tramway and in its site-specific version, Fiona Oliver-Larkin, Hopeful Monster and Al Seed – as well as performers in the Surge: Pitch event and the final evening's Clown Cabaret. Ranging across choreography, puppetry, clowning – in the case of Al Seed, a distinctive blending of storytelling, physical theatre and bouffon – capturing the dynamic landscape of Caledonian experimental performance.
After its success of last year's finale, the Clown Cabaret Special Edition will again conclude the festival. Drawing on the highlights of the Clown Scratch Cabaret which has been supporting Scotland's clowns over the past three years with regular visits to Edinburgh's Roxy and Glasgow's Tron, as well as other venues. Hart recognises that 'the consistently growing enthusiasm for and knowledge about clowning techniques adds greatly to the development of physical and visual theatre in Scotland. As more as more Scottish practitioners acquire and hone these techniques they do often then utilise them in more "serious" theatre-making.' With Al Seed's Bridges of Madness reminding audiences of one of Scotland's most established clown-influenced performers - now with the backing of 'the world's first eighteenth century jazz-blues band', manipulate's platform covers the rising stars and the veterans.
Across the years, however, the uncompromising experimentation of the festival's companies has been tempered by their use of familiar narratives: Sleeping Beauty and Macbeth both received visual theatre remakes in 2019, while Void draws on the dystopia of JG Ballard's novels and science provides the material for Green Ginger's Intronauts and Wunderkammer from Germany's Figurentheater Tuebingen.
'I wonder if one reason for engaging with more familiar stories is that then both artist and audience have a common framework, knowledge and set of expectations,' Hart says. 'Against these, the physical and visual elements employed can either provide further articulation or usefully digress from the essential elements of the narrative. Using stories we have even the most general knowledge helps take the narrative weight off these means of expression.' And it is exactly this combination of the familiar and the uncanny, the known and the unexpected that seems to lie at the heart of manipulate's continued appeal. The visual and physical elements of the shows are, as Hart concludes, 'employed to do what they do best: to explore and bring to light unseen fears, preoccupations and motivations'
Traverse, Edinburgh 2–12 Feb