No single word can encapsulate Manipulate. The festival’s mix of animation, physical theatre and puppetry defies easy categorisation. The organisation itself opts for “visually led work”. On the strength of this year’s opening weekend, you could also call it a celebration of making something out of nothing.
No more so is this the case than in Acqua Alta by the French duo Adrien M & Claire B. Around a boardroom table, they have arranged a set of large books, opened to reveal pen-and-ink scribbles and simple pop-up structures. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t give them a second look.
Only when you open the app on your phone do you make sense of them. Thanks to augmented-reality technology, the pages become miniature stage sets. Skipping around a flat-roofed house is a squabbling couple, inky black figures moving with balletic grace. Their argument ends as the rain starts. To see what happens next, you move to the next open book.
Taking its name from the periodic flooding of Venice, Acqua Alta follows the couple as they are torn apart by rising waters, the man switching from a tiny swimmer lost at sea to an enormous figure, reaching for his partner’s hair as it morphs into a sea anemone. All the while, the room remains unchanged. It is as if we had imagined it.
This is also true of Fauna, by the same team, a series of posters of dramatic landscapes – craters, cliffs, waterfalls – from which scores of amorphous black creatures emerge. Escaping into Summerhall’s corridors, they are comic and cute – and visible only to those in the know.
Along the road in the Festival theatre’s Studio, two one-off performances also play on the imagination. The Chosen Haram elevates a routine boy-meets-boy love story into something dream-like thanks to the circus skills of a weightless Sadiq Ali and Hauk Pattison. Ali’s first full-length show has visual flair to match its technical prowess, even if his intriguing themes about Islam and sexuality are underexplored.
In After Metamorphosis, Lewis Sherlock embodies Franz Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, his twitches and convulsions matched by the repeating phrases of Ali Maloney’s narration. With its pummelling techno soundtrack, the physical-theatre show makes up in intensity what it lacks in subtlety.
Manipulate festival is at Summerhall and the Studio, Festival theatre, Edinburgh, until 5 February. The Chosen Haram is at Jacksons Lane, London, 4-6 February.