Manipulate Festival: ‘There are no limits with puppetry’

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Forget Punch & Judy – the Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival proves puppets aren’t just for kids, writes Melissa Steel

[Tortoise in a Nutshell's Grit]

Manipulate  is a serious business, as Simon Hart, Artistic Director of Puppet Animation Scotland and festival organiser, testifies: “We’ve got a lot of companies criss-crossing the country, up to Aberdeen, down to Norwich, so certainly over the last couple of weeks we have been ensuring everyone is where we want them to be at the time we want them to be.”

If all the logistics work out, the Festival (running from Friday, January 31 until February 8) will showcase a mix of puppetry and animation from across the world.

Some of Hart’s picks for the festival include Brazilian-Dutch Dudapaiva’s satirical Bestiaires featuring giant latex puppets (“very Spitting Image”, according to Hart), Planet Luvos, a long-awaited sequel to 2012′s dystopian Luvos from the Austrian Editta Braun Company, and Grit, a piece about children growing up in war zones by Edinburgh’s own Tortoise in a Nutshell.

“Through all that great international work that we have been bringing to Scotland for the last six years, we wanted to inspire Scottish artists to create work of a similar ambition,”  explains Hart. “We are really starting to achieve that, where we have Scottish work which can stand in comparison with this really good and exciting European work.”

Along with Aberdeen and Norwich, Edinburgh is a prime location for the festival, too.

“What Edinburgh gives us is a really good centre, it is a central entry point for artists entering the UK. We have a good audience on the doorstep,” says Hart. As for the Traverse itself: “The name is synonymous with new writing and innovative work, especially during the Edinburgh Festival. The whole ethos of the building fits our vision for Manipulate.”

Although all the shows are serious artistic endeavours, there is still a lot of fun to be had: “I think puppetry and visual theatre can in some way help adults reconnect to some latent sense of playfulness,” says Hart.

Ross McKay, director of Tortoise in a Nutshell’s Grit, notes that puppetry pushes people both artistically and emotionally.

“It’s so full of possibility, there are no limits with puppetry. You can do anything. The audience invests quite a lot in the puppet. You can get a lot more emotion out of a puppet than you can out of a straight theme because you might be thinking of it in much more of a cerebral kind of way.”

This is something that the team behind Grit took advantage of in their production.

“We knew there was a lot of pieces about war that would use a lot of statistics but we were keen to see what it would be like, rather than looking at the statistics, looking at the personal stories, what emotions were felt by children who might be in these situations,” reveals McKay.

Big name productions featuring puppets have helped regenerate interest in the art, according to McKay: “We started doing this four years ago and there was a scene going up around then with shows like War Horse and The Lion King.”

Hart also thinks War Horse has piqued the curiosity of those who would not normally be interested in puppetry:

“I think at the moment we are in part riding on the crest of show likes War Horse where a more general audience who have a reasonable theatrical knowledge but perhaps less in these niche areas, will suddenly see a show like War Horse and suddenly think “Wow! Where has this art form been?!”

So, does Manipulate welcome this interest generated by its more mainstream relations? “It’s good for everybody,” Hart says, “but certainly good for us.”

 Manipulate runs from 31 Jan – 8 Feb. Full details of events at

Which shows are you looking forward to at Manipulate?

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