Manipulate Festival 2013
Puppet Animation Scotland’s commitment to promoting visual theatre – shorthand for the various performance genres that relate to animation and puppetry – is most clearly expressed in the expansion of Manipulate. Featuring artists from around the world, with a film programme running in parallel, Manipulate presents established, international names alongside emerging and local artists. Despite the diversity of styles – from Carles Cassalachs’ choreography through to the docu-drama of 'Big Man Japan' – the artists all share a seriousness of intention that combines to make Manipulate a statement of visual theatre’s rude health.
Both ‘Schicklgruber... Alias Adolf Hitler’ (by Stuffed Puppet) and ‘To The End of Love’ (by TIP Connection) are reminders that object manipulation can grapple with intense subjects. While ‘Schicklgruber…’ visits Hitler’s last days in the bunker, finding comedy in despair, ‘To The End of Love’ updates the Bluebeard myth to ponder the dangers of jealousy. A triple bill from the USA’s Cloud Eye Control engages with cutting edge technology to explore human’s relationship to the modern age. Not only do all three productions reveal how sophisticated animation and puppetry have become, they promise to match their medium to tough material.
The strength of the performers at Manipulate is in this ability to combine form and content. Rather than the puppets being some kind of distraction, object manipulation becomes the natural medium for the subject matter. The film programme on offer emphasises how animation can release a director from the constraints of cinematic realism. ‘Consuming Spirits’ will see Chris Sullivan organising experimental techniques into a story of secrets and revelations, and ‘The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes’ (The Brothers Quay) will reveal how surrealism is best explored through lyrical innovation.
Despite the seriousness of the subject matter throughout Manipulate, there is a sense of play and humour that permeates the programme. ‘Paper Cut’ by Yael Rasooly might star a frustrated secretary, indulging her dreams of romance, but its cunning cultivation of Hollywood tropes promises a light, witty touch. ‘Big Man Japan’ will pick up on the dystopian world of the modern superhero, found in comics but largely absent in the films, and find ironic laughter in the depiction of a heroic giant’s attempts to maintain a positive public image.
Given the range of approaches that the festival’s artistic director Simon Hart has chosen, and the diverse content, it is impossible to say that this balance of entertainment and intensity is the natural product of visual theatre. Rather, the selections are balanced to offer an introduction to the medium, while ensuring that the more challenging works are put into a broader context.
The final show to preview here is ‘Slick’. An entry by the Scottish company Vox Motus, and a revival of an Edinburgh Fringe hit, it takes advantage of humour to delve into a very human, if fantasy, story. Apart from revealing how Manipulate reflects an interest within Scotland for the potential of the puppet, Slick’s broad humour and dynamic storytelling will no doubt capture something of the festival’s own raw energy.
At a time when Scotland is dominated by the festival model (from the International Edinburgh Festival, through film festivals in Glasgow and Edinburgh, The Arches’ Behaviour to shorter weekends scattered around the country), Manipulate is a reminder how curation can be crucial. Affirming the value of object manipulation, and moving the next generation of artists into the public domain, Manipulate promises 14 days of excitement, intelligent theatre and provocation.