Manipulate festival - Puppetry and animation festival avoids the P word

Manipulate festival - Puppetry and animation festival avoids the P word

Traverse season features cult animation and visually arresting films

The director of the Manipulate festival tells Mark Fisher about a journey into transformation – with no strings attached

Simon Hart is trying not to use the P word. When he describes his annual Manipulate festival, he prefers to call it a celebration of visual theatre (with the teasing strap line: ‘innovative theatre arts for consenting adults’) than to say anything about puppetry. This might seem odd from the man in charge of Puppet Animation Scotland, but he has good reason.

‘My ideal audience member would be somebody who comes for the whole week because then they would get a pretty good sense of where visual theatre, in all its many guises, is at the moment,’ he says. ‘There’s such a breadth of experimentation among the companies.’

His caution about the P word is that Manipulate is a festival for grown-ups. Yes, the programme includes The Last Miner by Scotland’s Tortoise in a Nutshell and, yes, it has hitherto played to very young audiences. But Hart has scheduled the show – acclaimed by The List for its precision and profundity – to run at 9.30pm; well past the little ones’ bedtimes.

‘The company created The Last Miner for children, but it’s one of those crossover shows that adults respond to a bit more than the children they’re bringing,’ says Hart. ‘We’re saying to adults, “Allow yourself to be a child.” Puppetry for adults is relatively rare in the UK. The pervading nature of script-based theatre in the UK has traditionally swept all before it. On the Continent there tends to be a much greater balance between classic text-based theatre and a sophisticated visual awareness.’

Another reason for avoiding the P word is that Manipulate is not only about puppetry. Hart’s starting point is work that emphasises visual language at least as much as the spoken word. That can mean anything from the expressionist animations of the 1927 company and its excellent The Animals and Children Took to the Streets (a successor to the Fringe First-winning Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea) to the large-scale puppetry of France’s Compagnie Philippe Genty which is running a week-long professional masterclass.

‘Part of the festival’s remit is to present work that is telling stories through pictures,’ says Hart. ‘We’re exploring the interrelationship between object theatre, puppetry and animation. And it’s about saying puppetry isn’t the same as you saw as an eight-year-old child – it is that, but it’s much more than that as well.’

Other treats to look out for in the week-long festival include the dance/object theatre fusion of Belgium’s Compagnie Mossoux-Bonté on its third festival visit with Kefar Nahum; France’s Gisele Vienne with Jerk about an American serial killer; and a handful of cult animated movies and visually arresting films.

‘Children don’t need permission when they see a theatre piece to know that two bits of wood held together is an aeroplane because they would do that in everyday play,’ says Hart. ‘Often, one almost needs to give an adult audience permission to accept that an inanimate object is the thing it is pretending to be. By trying to remove the P word, we’re enabling an adult audience to suspend its disbelief. We all search for that transcendental feeling that something has been transformed from inertness into action.’

Manipulate, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Mon 31 Jan–Sat 5 Feb.

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