Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival is a festival of puppetry, animation and object theatre for adults. Drop the P-word and most people tend to think of talking socks, flying sausages and general silliness: kids’ stuff, in other words. Manipulate, now in its third year, offers something altogether more grown-up. From politically charged shadow-play to a sound

sculpture combining ‘cultural memory’ with Foucaultian philosophy, to a wordless exploration of the rooms inside our minds, the work on show at this week-long festival is diverse, original and likely to challenge and confuse those many adults whose experience of puppetry extends little further than Kermit the Frog.

‘For anybody who’s gone to some sort of puppet show as a child and I think we’re all very clear about

the conventions of puppetry and object theatre in that context to return to the art form as an adult can be very intriguing, because they really don’t know what to expect,’ says Manipulate’s artistic director Simon Hart, who hopes to promote this versatile art form to the general public more and more as the young festival grows, as well as providing a valuable core service to Scottish puppetry practitioners. Immediate satisfaction for those seeking linear

narratives and clear messages may not be forthcoming, but what Manipulate does promise is food for thought, and Hart is proud of that mysterious, unfamiliar quality of the work: ‘I think at its best this sort of work appeals directly to those emotional responses that are not particularly explicable. In the UK we’re so focused on the spoken word because of that heritage of Shakespeare onwards, that it’s nice to present something entirely different.’ (Laura Ennor)

PREVIEW SITE-SPECIFIC THEATRE ARCHES OFF-SITE Various venues, Glasgow, Tue 2 Feb–Sat 27 Feb

Forget being entertained from the comfort of a velvety chair in an auditorium. Recent theatre performances in toilet cubicles or lifts have opened Scottish audiences’ eyes to the added value that site specific and promenade productions can bring. Besides throwing people together in sometimes disarmingly cosy spaces, it’s a method of breaking down barriers and challenging perceptions of what it means to be a spectator.

LJ Dodd, curator of the Arches’ Off- Site programme likes the idea of people stumbling across events where they least expect them; like Stereo’s café-bar (site of Rotozaza’s Etiquette, where two strangers are told what to say to each other via headphones), or a multi-storey car park (the setting for Andy Field’s Motor Vehicle Sundown, for one car-full of people at a time).

‘It’ll be fantastic if people actually just bump into these shows, and suddenly their day takes a completely different direction than they’d planned’, she says. Off-Site began through necessity the

Arches is closed during January and February while improvements are made to Central Station but has grown to include performances in a disused shop in Govan (The National Theatre of Scotland’s Allotment), a Pollokshields flat (Molly Taylor’s dinner party meets play, A La Carte) and Poorboy’s garden shed- set Birds and Other Things I’m Afraid Of. ‘Off-site events let you feel like you’ve

gone on an adventure in the city, and seen something that made you think a bit differently,’ says Dodd. ‘I think that brings something really exciting to them.’ (Claire Sawers)

PREVIEW CIRCUS SHOW TRACES Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Mon 1–Wed 3 Feb; Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Thu 4–Sat 6 Feb

When you’re in the business of making people’s jaws drop, it can be difficult to engage their brains at the same time. But French-Canadian circus troupe, Les 7 Doigts de la Main (The Seven Fingers) wants to stimulate more than just your adrenal glands. Their multi-disciplined show, Traces, has what they call the ‘human element’, which lies beneath the stunning acrobatics on top. ‘We start the show with high physical energy,’ explains co-artistic director, Gypsy Snider. ‘Then after flipping, falling, throwing and catching, the performers stand in front of the audience and talk to them so vulnerably, they manage to create a very human relationship with them.’

Hiding inside a bunker, with the threat of impending disaster just outside, the five characters share their stories amid a flurry of acrobatics, streetdance, skateboarding and parkour. Originally created in 2006, and a big hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe the following year, Traces has inevitably evolved over the past four years.

‘We try to recreate the show to fit every new cast member,’ says Snider. ‘And as the performers’

bodies and lives change as they tour, that in turn alters how they approach the show. We have also changed certain music, choreography and tricks through the years, always striving for something more unique and exciting.’

What remains constant is Traces’ ultimate aim to connect with the audience. ‘I want people to leave the theatre with a feeling of possibility and excitement,’ says Snider. ‘But also a feeling that they have just shared a moment with the performers, rather than just observed it.’ (Kelly Apter)

84 THE LIST 21 Jan–4 Feb 2010