Agata Maslowska enjoys the joy of puppets

Feature by Agata Maslowska | 10 Feb 2009



Our lives are centralised around language: people often think that we need to verbalise the idea in order to understand it. Manipulate, at the Visual Theatre Festival at the Traverse, proves this wrong. Exploring the relationship between the art forms of animation and puppet theatre, Manipulate places itself “beneath, beyond, above, next to the word”, according Richard Holloway’s opening speech. The festival, presented by Puppet Animation Scotland and Projector Animation Festival, showcased the best international practitioners of the object and animation theatre.

First up is Nicole Mossoux and her amazing troupe. Five mannequins take the audience to the place where words are useless, where the eye falls in love with a single movement of the hand or a nod of the head. While the brilliant Belgian puppeteer visually narrates the episodic stories, it is difficult to figure out whether it is her leading the puppet or whether the puppets control the puppeteer. After just a short while the audience is immersed in the surreal world where the boundaries between the animate and the inanimate are blurred, where we no longer watch the puppet show, but the startling performance of the unusual mime artists. Mossoux’s unforgettable performance is only intensified by great lighting and music.

“Hell is not just about other people, it’s about you too.” So said Holloway before the screening of Dante’s Inferno, created by Paul Zaloom, the award-winning American puppeteer and live performer. Zaloom’s fantastic version of Inferno combines puppetry, live-action graphics and Victorian-era toy theatre to create a political satire of both past and contemporary civilisation. As we go through the Circles of Hell, we tour America where the circles stand for a particular location, either the downtown city or a nightclub. Zaloom’s delightful imagination and sparkling creativity are illuminated even stronger in The Mother of All Enemies, the cartoonish shadow puppet show about “the consequences of being on the fringes of society”. The story of Karagoz, Zaloom’s hybrid character – an Arabic secular humanist/Quaker/Buddhist/agnostic/political refugee/immigrant/queer/artist/weirdo – is just a pretext for Zaloom to step out of the shadow and get on with his satirical soliloquy. It’s hilarious and serious, incredible and sincere – a great piece of theatre.

The New Not New is a beautiful interpretation of Ragtime, a short story written by Anaïs Nin. The piece was created and directed by puppeteer and performer Ailie Cohen and Citizens Theatre Artistic Director Guy Hollands. As the piece opens, the puppeteer looks at the dress in the display window. A minute later the dress becomes alive as Cohen manipulates the folds of the dress, transforming it into a collection of puppets, old photographs and broken objects of emotional value. The dynamic changes in the stage set subtly reflect the movement of the story of lost memories, impermanence of being and nostalgia.