Pushing the boundaries: Manipulate 2015

Some of the most exciting international puppetry and animation artists descend on Scotland at the end of January. Here's what you can expect to find at Manipulate 2015

Feature by Emma Ainley-Walker | 06 Jan 2015

The theatre and arts scene in Scotland is saturated. From the weird to the wonderful, if you can think of a genre then it’s probably represented somewhere. Niche genres could be lost among the many, but for puppetry and animation, Manipulate festival, now in its eighth year, are making sure that doesn’t happen. 

Manipulate’s focus is on innovation, and on bringing exciting new works from all around the world to Scotland. It’s the sort of festival that once a year becomes a hive for experimental artists, pushing boundaries and, most importantly, creating discussion. Alongside the performance programme, Manipulate are running a series of masterclasses into the types of theatre they present, including Beyond the Screen: Contemporary Shadow Theatre with Italian artist Fabrizio Montecchi of Teatro Gioco Vita, who have been working in the medium for the past 30 years. Bodies & Objects: Explorations & Experiments, a masterclass run by Polina Borisova, plans to introduce a new style of puppeteering to professionals and students alike, based on movement. She draws on contemporary physical theatre to inform the puppetry, and create a stronger relationship between the physicality of practitioners with their puppets. 

These explorations into new techniques alongside years of experience carry through into the programme of performance. The combination of plays offer everything from physical theatre, dance and circus to traditional puppetry, hand crafted puppets and the avant-garde. It’s this ability to combine the established, known, more classic work with the boundary pushing and challenging pieces that keeps Manipulate festival engaged with the form, relevant to its history and its future. 

The festival begins on 31 January with two very different performances. Maria Addolorata, presented as part of both Manipulate and The Big Burns Supper, is a two-person dance exploration into suffering, fresh off a successful run at Summerhall during the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe. Meanwhile, over at the Traverse, Scottish aerial dance theatre All or Nothing present the world premiere of Three’s a Crowd. Using harness flying and acrobatics to explore human relationships, and the number three, the piece focuses on human physicality as expression, a theme that naturally can be seen in much of Manipulate’s programme. 

French company Velo Theatre continue this theme in the UK premiere of their piece And Then He Ate Me. Championing, 'le Théâtre d’Objet,'  a wordless theatre that unravels emotional connection between actor and object, this piece is incredibly image based, giving the effect of onstage illustration. This style lends itself well to the production’s roots in fairytale, using the visual to create an unnerving world in a style of which Lewis Carroll would likely approve. It will show at The Lemon Tree on 1 February and the Traverse on the 3rd.

Similarly visual is Ramesh Meyyappan’s Butterfly, a multi-disciplinary adaptation of Madame Butterfly, using handcrafted puppets created by Gavin Glover, whose work has previously been seen as part of NTS’s A Christmas Carol. Butterfly will show as part of Manipulate on 31 January at The Lemon Tree, 5 February at Traverse and the 7 February at Norwich Puppet Theatre, after showing at both The Arches and the Macrobert theatre from the 27-29 January. With so many opportunities to take in this modern adaption of a classic tale, Butterfly is a great entry into the world of puppet theatre for newcomers and fans alike. 

Closing the festival at Traverse on 7 February, after Norwich Puppet Theatre on the 4th, are Russian cult icons Theatre AKHA with Mr Carmen, a show which has been performed since 2003. This company is a perfect example of the ways in which Manipulate festival plays with the avant garde and the experimental. The text is in written form as opposed to text which is read, and the performance takes the format of a duel between theatrical reality and everyday reality in this eccentric version of Mérimée’s Carmen. 

In the festival’s expanding animation strand, this year Manipulate are running a Music and Moving Image series that sees artists present their own work alongside animations that have inspired them, in order to open discussion about animation as a whole. Artists we can see featured this way are award-winning filmmaker Thomas Hicks, whose work has often been visually striking animations created to complement music. Experiments and Explorations will take place at the Traverse on 31 January. As part of the same series, Scottish animator Neil Kempsell will present his two short films under Elegies & Inspirations, 31 January at The Lemon Tree and Monday 2 February at the Traverse. His work was created to commemorate renowned musician Martyn Bennett. 

Manipulate’s programme is packed with more theatre, puppetry and animation that you’re likely to find elsewhere in Scotland at any other time of year. From 31 January to 7 February, this is the culture you need.

Manipulate 2015, The Traverse, Edinburgh; The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen; Norwich Puppet Theatre, 31 Jan-7 Feb http://manipulatefestival.org