The annual visual theatre festival Manipulate (‘Innovative theatre arts for consenting adults’), hosted by the Traverse and presented by Puppet Animation Scotland, opened last night.
Not only was it a Monday night at the back of 9, but the weather was cold, windy - a real "Januar blast" - yet the theatre was full. A great testament to the reputation gained by this wee nugget of a festival held at an otherwise dreich time of year.
There were only 3 orange lights on stage and some odd rough structures with the sound of eerie, windy music and the occasional plip drip noise. These set the scene for the story of a sad old miner who lives underground with his memories.
He runs the old mine as if no one had told him it had closed like the soldier in hiding not knowing the war had ended . He has one canary and one pit pony, cleverly created respectively by a furry light on a stick and a leather glove with brush bristles for a mane.
The two puppeteers dressed as miners in Davy Lamps, like ghosts of his former life, are visible yet discreet as they lovingly manipulate to life the piece of cloth and wood that embodies the sadness and weariness of this Last Miner as he finally has to make a choice when the roof of his home, the mine, collapses.
The piece is performed wordlessly, making its appeal universal. This young company retained a Scottish element within this through a silhouetted, Magic Lantern show of the pit working and camaraderie which worked very well with sharp images against a yellow/orange glow. However, this lost focus a bit, later in the show, when there were two screens on stage and the shadows of the puppeteers seemed to dominate.
Formed on 2007 by 4 QMU students, Tortoise in a Nutshell has grown to encompass performers, designers, musicians and dramaturgs. The company shows great sensitivity to their chosen subject in this moving and enthralling piece of puppetry, that could be enjoyed by adults and children alike.
Manipulate runs from 31 Jan to 5 Feb 2011