Festival preview: manipulate Visual Theatre Festival @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

Tonight (30 January) until 4 February, various times and prices, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Tel: 0131 228 1404/226 2666. www.traverse.co.uk

What links this event and Justin Bieber? There’s a question for you. Please, take a moment to think about it. Is one something that features puppetry and the other a puppet of the manufactured pop music industry, you ask? Come on now, don’t be mean. Is that it? Are you giving up already?

It’s the number five. Five years since Bieber was introduced to the world in a YouTube clip uploaded by his mother, and the fifth consecutive year manipulate Visual Theatre Festival is offering its eclectic programme to Scottish audiences.

Amazingly, that could well be their only commonality. So now, as in an arts essay, I’ll move on to some notable contrasts between the two.

For starters, manipulate is not for kids. Although the festival showcases some of the most imaginative works of puppetry internationally, it also realises dark and complex themes through other mediums – such as animation, film and physical theatre.

The first-ever manipulate event was launched by Puppet Animation Scotland in 2008, and promised ‘performances, master classes and exhibitions to entertain, challenge and inspire’. Its message remains the same this week at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre.

‘manipulate is all about presenting innovative work which has been created with passion for adults who are looking to be engaged both intellectually and emotionally,’ said Puppet Animation Scotland’s artistic director Simon Hart.

‘It’s also about demonstrating triumphantly that puppetry is not just for children!’

Next point. Unlike Bieber, manipulate provides a varied artistic experience. Over six days, the festival welcomes a dynamic calibre of stage and screen creations from around the world.

I’ll be more specific. Showing only tonight is an explosive nine-page version of Hamlet, written by German playwright Heiner Müller. Taking the form of a staged piece, Hamletmachine also uses puppetry and film to visually convey the heightened drama and tensions of Shakespeare’s original.

Tomorrow evening presents Plucked, a beguiling effort by Liz Walker and her England-based company Invisible Thread. Live video-feed painting, animation and object theatre portray a miniature world in which the haunting, funny and tragic are captured in fairytales.

Plus there’s Off To The Asylum, which explores the madness of human nature in eight short films on Thursday.

‘Our audiences experience so many different styles of visual theatre, puppetry and physical theatre. There’s something inspiring and challenging for everyone,” continued Mr Hart.

He added that the reputation of the Traverse Theatre helps attract such exciting global talent to Scotland.

Finally, and moving swiftly towards my groundbreaking conclusion, there’s another key difference between manipulate and Justin Bieber. As both approach their respective five-year milestones, only one might be around to enjoy a 50th. I'll leave you to speculate which.