The Themes of manipulate 2019

Scotland's trailblazing festival of innovative visual theatre and animation returns, with performances from artists around the world. But with so many different art forms on show, what themes are tackled in this year's programme?

Preview by Roisin O'Brien | 24 Jan 2019
  • Macbeth by Paper Cinema

Now in its twelfth year, manipulate, Puppet Animation Scotland’s annual festival celebrating visual theatre, puppetry and animated film, will return in February and features established Scottish and international makers, as well as platforms for emerging artists and mid-development productions. Artist-focused workshops and a day-long industry seminar will also make an appearance. But with so many artists onboard, what themes can be found on the programme this year?

Unique Visuals

The saturation of numbingly bland digital effects in mainstream cinema (think DC or Marvel universes, swamped with shiny, untouchable superheroes) and the increasing mediation of our lives, for better and worse, through screens and online platforms, throws the live ‘manipulation’ in puppetry and visual theatre into sharp relief. With the puppets’ crafted aesthetic, and the skills of the performers in imbuing their drawings or creatures with life (we can often see the artist performing the trick), we become more aware of the form itself. 

Such visual ingenuity and grace appears across the manipulate programme. In Wunderkammer from Figurentheatre Tuebingen (Germany), ‘the complex, many-faceted medium of the marionette can release our sense and understanding to perceive gravity and magnetism.’ In Transmographies, Hopeful Monster (Scotland) use their hands in innovative ways to create unexpected creatures and characters.


This sense of wonder is not always light; if anything, the macabre and a violent surrealism are often present. The proclivity for horror in visual theatre seems to imply that our fears are themselves already monstrous and the artists are merely reflecting them back to us. In Beguiled from Invisible Thread (England), we are treated to an adaptation of a scary Victorian children’s tale and a scene of slapstick puppetry that features death-defying plank action.

New Technologies 

While there may be an almost analog or handmade aesthetic to these techniques, manipulate nonetheless brings us artists who are working with new technologies and ways of incorporating them into live performance. From a previous inclusion in Dance International Glasgow in 2017 (then shown underneath a motorway flyover), comes Void, the electric and award-winning performance from Mele Broomes. Void is an adaptation of JG Ballard’s Concrete Island, "reimagined through the lens of a black female protagonist and staged as a meshing of experimental dance and abstract glitch video landscapes."


A theme that runs throughout the programme is that of scale. Many of the manipulate artists exploit the size of their materials to offer us new perspectives. In Invisible Lands from Livsmedlet Theatre (Finland), small models placed on bare skin combine with video projections to offer us an intimate view of the refugee crisis, in contrast, perhaps, to the chaotic scenes so often seen on our televisions and in the news. The Paper Cinema (England) return to manipulate with Macbeth, Shakespeare’s tragedy created through intricate pen and ink illustrations that are manipulated and layered in real time in front of a camera and projected onto the big screen.


While there is plenty of buffoonery and clownery to be had throughout the festival, larger political concerns are brought to the fore too. The festival features a screening of films from Colombian animator Carlos Santa, which will be followed by a Q&A with Santa. Bursting with surreal landscapes and haunting images, and created within a context of a country torn apart by civil war, the films "unflinchingly portray the political context of both the philosophical and the day-to-day struggles of a people living through cruel and relentless conflict."

With beauty and farce, and from the everyday to our place in a globalised society, this year’s festival promises to be an intriguing, inventive and challenging week.

manipulate festival, 2-12 Feb, venues across Scotland