Manipulating magic

Manipulating magic

Close Up / credit: Bettina Frenzel

Puppet Animation Scotland's annual celebration of theatre beyond words

Although British theatre has always prized the importance of the playwright, with the script being the most common starting-point for a production, an alternative tradition has developed, influenced by directors such as Meyerhold and movements such as Dadaism, that shifts the focus to the visual experience of the play. Including puppetry, choreography and mime, visual theatre offers a more inclusive idea of performance which, thanks to a limited reliance on words, can be truly international in appeal.

Now in its ninth year, Puppet Animation Scotland's annual Manipulate Festival showcases such work, and its upcoming 2016 programme emphasises its reputation for combining new work from Scotland and celebrated companies from around the world.

The concept of physical, mechanical movement lies at the heart of the festival's programme. Nowhere is this more evident than in the programme's opening performance – the Editta Braun Company's Close Up. A dark, visceral exploration of womanhood, the performance marks the conclusion of an acclaimed trilogy for the returning Austrian company, following the success of Luvos and Planet Luvos at previous Manipulate festivals. Featuring a quintet of dancers accompanied by virtuoso concert pianist AyseDeniz, Close Up intertwines music and movement in an intensely physical meditation on the female body.

True to its commitment to new and innovative visual theatre, Manipulate 2016 also plays host to the world premiere of Atlanta-based Paper Doll Militia's Loops End. Centred around the spectacular aerial choreography that is the company's trademark, the show's innovative use of lighting and animation promise a spectacular Manipulate return for the company following their previous success with Unchained and Unhinged.

Birdheart, a intimate piece of animated theatre crafted by collaborators Saskia Lane and Julian Crouch, also makes its European debut. Combining Lane's diverse performance skills and Crouch's Tony Award-winning design expertise, the production uses a blend of puppetry and projection to transform an assortment of oddments into a tactile story of change and growth.

Through their shared preoccupation with materiality and movement, the eclectic collection of work assembled at Manipulate 2016 provides a potent alternative to mainstream theatre. By foregrounding the visual, the productions reformulate the traditional dynamic between performance and the written text, replacing it with a self-consciously visual text written in images before the audience. Manipulate prides itself on providing a platform for the world's most innovative artists, and this 2016 programme promises a compelling and challenging visual theatre experience.

Manipulate runs Fri 29 Jan–Sat 6 Feb, at various venues in Scotland.