Manipulate: Three International Shows

23 01 2023

Manipulate: Three International Shows

by Gareth K Vile

The 16th edition of the Manipulate festival - with shows at the Traverse Theatre, Summerhall, The Studio at Festival Theatre, Fruitmarket, online and outside across the city - will run from Thursday 2 - Sunday 12 February, presenting a dynamic programme of live performances, installations, workshops, and film screenings. A celebration of both international and Scottish visual theatre, Manipulate explores work across the theatrical spectrum, from dance through puppetry to mixed media dramaturgies, highlighting the potential of performance that exists beyond the boundaries of scripted drama.

Manipulate’s vision combines an interest in how local performers are engaging with the rich tradition of visual theatre with the opportunity to experience some of the most powerful international companies. With a concern for how art interacts with the wider community, and a commitment to aesthetic excellence, artistic director Dawn Taylor speaks with enthusiasm of the first Manipulate that can offer a full programme after three years undermined by lockdowns and pandemic.

‘By expanding across Edinburgh into new venues, the city streets and online, Manipulate can reach and connect with new audiences and spark new conversations,’ Taylor says.  ‘We are looking forward to celebrating the sheer magic that puppetry, visual theatre and animation can offer during these challenging times; a spark of hope and light in the dark of the Scottish winter!’

The international companies demonstrate how visual theatre remains a challenging and open category: festival returnees Agrupación Señor Serrano’s Birdie takes influence from Alfred Hitchcock in a study of migration, global devastation and a hope for a sustainable future through micro-cinema, using both screens and live performance in an evocative performance. Ljubljana Puppet Theatre offer Moč (The Power), which engages with puppet-object theatre to examine the power dynamics in the public and private spheres, while VOX Muziektheater, present the UK Premiere of Poor Thing, a bold amalgamation of opera and object theatre. Melancholic and life-affirming, it follows the attempt by three funeral directors to reconstruct the life of a forgotten woman.

While all three productions connect thematically with other shows in the programme, the presence of these companies affirms Manipulate’s ongoing relationship with the wider world. Coming from diverse national traditions, they draw on both historical forms and contemporary issues, working with the materials of the object to delve deeply into metaphysical and fascinating examinations of relevant ideas. Far from sentimental recreations of old media, these works argue for the continued vitality and imagination of visual theatre.