Manipulate 2020: Lamp, Shadowbird and Island Home
We round up our coverage of this year's Manipulate festival with three ambitious shows that strive for thought-provoking visual spectacle, with varying degrees of effect
Lamp utilises the simplest of object manipulation to create humour, unbridled chaos, and even blushing erotic displays. You’ll have to remind yourself that you're looking at a lampshade; it really shouldn’t be sexy.
Co-creators Jess Raine & Jemima Thewes of Swallow The Sea are used to performing within a caravan, so the enclosed space of the Summerhall basement works wonders for their production. Clad in black, this is the rare instance where you do fully engage with the puppetry of the object, not the performer. Even when incorporating their body part in humorous takes on escapology, on the female form and sexual discovery, Raine & Thewes manage to give life to a tattered, frilly ceiling lampshade.
A highlight includes the use of literal hand puppetry to create creatures squawking into the audience, the pair of lamps now serving a tall nest. However, there’s a sense that a longer piece would have seen these sorts of ideas grow tired and repetitive. At twenty minutes, Lamp is lively and inventive but by the end it already runs into limitations.
Shadowbird starts as a quaint production but grows into something so much more. A fisherman, sculpted wonderfully by Mary and David Grieve, begins his story in the way all good stories are told... as he finishes off a pint. Soon, we're thrown into a world of epic adventure and charming design.
The frame through which performers convey their puppets' motion begins to unfold as oceans, mountains and moons open up to illustrate the story of the fisherman in his youth. Now a young man, moving a heavy pod which serves both as home and transport, the fisherman takes refuge by the mountainside, awe-struck by the sea-life, the plants and one peculiar shadow creature which seems to emerge from a single blackbird.
Though it's a story told primarily through puppetry, light has a tremendous impact on the effectiveness of the narrative. Shadowbird is inspired by Tom Waits’ song Fish and Bird, and its playfulness with shadow accentuates the songs' subject of unavailable love, longing and melancholy. It’s a prime example of rod-puppetry and ability to convey an entire story, from birth to fruition without dialogue.
Island Home (★★)
More than ever, harmony and acceptance are the goals for many seeking a home away from danger and hate. With Island Home, Katarini Cakova delivers a solo performance with multiple narrative threads, loosely tied together by the overarching theme of how to find one's place in the world. Cakova's piece is full of pop-up art, shadow play and object control – but in her desire to cover so many stories, Cakova waters down the overall effect.
Attempting to transform everyday objects into pieces of a grander puzzle, Island Home fails to convey the sense of symbolism it desires. There’s a breakdown in the ability to craft an illusion; a toy car is a toy car, a snow globe is still a snow globe. Cakova employs shadow play ambitiously, but these objects are still too literal in their physical form and so cannot metamorphose into whatever Cakova tries to make them.
Where puppetry is concerned, Island Home takes a more positive turn. Two of the piece’s many stories stand out. A brief tale of three fishermen who find themselves taking in a peculiar child from the shorelines showcases a spectacular dark and threatening design, with characters fashioned from rod puppets. The other is the production’s highlight – we witness a paper-craft journey as a young narrator describes traveling the seas in search of a better life. The waves gradually grow higher and more volatile, achieved through forced perspective and overlapping designs.
Island Home strives to weave multiple narratives, all attempting to address themes of acceptance and finding one's place in the world. But what should be a piece that connects all limits its message to only those who can follow its ambiguous and loosely tethered stories.