The Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival at the Traverse until the weekend, is back for its fifth year with its curious mix of avant-garde visual theatre, puppetry, object, animation, and physical theatre.
Invisible Thread’s production, Plucked, is described as “a true fairy tale”. Already we are in a world of uncertainties. Do they mean a fairy tale in the true sense of the genre or do they mean a fairy tale that happens to be true? Well, after seeing this thoroughly engrossing and at times disturbing tale in two acts, (The Birds and The Crone) I can only say that both apply.
As a taster, two black clad figures slipped through the Traverse bar carrying bright white heads. This was at once intriguing and a bit scary, which could sum up this production.
Liz Walker, formerly of Theatre of Animation, Faulty Optic, has created figures that are full of creepy vulnerability. While androgynous in their almost identical semmits, braces, and hooped skirts, their body language imbued by the puppeteers clarify their genders and make the creatures utterly human.
The entire pattern of the mating game is compressed into this comic but disconcerting world where we witness the process from courting, sex (tender to hurried), blink- of- an- eye pregnancy, nest building and the birth of metaphorical babies in the astounding forms of a chair, a train and a TV.
The initial comic bizarreness of these ideas are quickly replaced with the realisation that it is precisely like life – one moment one set of circumstances prevail, and in a blink all has changed.
One child can be demanding, another absorbing, another can’t wait to leave home and Liz Walker’s, chair, TV set and runaway train became these offspring with surreal ease. The figures’ tremulous hands belie their emotionless immobile faces as one flies the nest leaving the other angry alone and with a ‘bucket of tears’. In other words well and truly ‘plucked’.
After an interval and scene change, the fairy tale begins in a more recognisable way as we learn of a journey to be taken by The Crone who gets messages from the moon as to what path she should take for redemption.
This is shown on screen as layers of painting done live beside the screen depict the projected plan. While calmly winding a wringer in ostensible domesticity, she coldly disposes of a series of suitors that includes a mad and highly sexual dug who performs a phallic Punch and Judy show as the tale tips in to nightmare.
The gentle bird song that soothes at the start has turned to a harsh raven’s cawing yet it remains blackly funny and completely absorbing.
When I approached the Traverse Box Office to collect my tickets for this year’s Manipulate, there was a fair sized group of folk seated in the nearby gallery space. When I asked what the event was I was told it was the hopefuls waiting for returns for the Manipulate shows. If that’s not testament to success on a Tuesday night in January, I don’t know what is.
The lucky one who got in to this sell out show were handed cards from a unique set with information from Invisible Thread. This was a lovely and personal gesture from the 3 handed cast after such intense work on stage.
Plucked was part of Big Night Out which is events aimed at young people with an interest in arts and culture. Check Traverse Theatre for details.