It’s a small event compared with the Fringe, or even the Edinburgh International Festival itself; but all the same it’s delightful, on a blustery January day in Edinburgh, to hear the multi-lingual chatter of an international audience gathering for a theatre event again, and lingering in the cafe at Summerhall, where this year’s Manipulate Festival is based. There have been cancellations, of course, during the latest wave of the Covid crisis; but a multimedia festival like Manipulate can adapt and move on with relative ease, still offering two rich weekend programmes for both Edinburgh audiences and international delegates, between now and 7 February.
At Summerhall, for example, it’s possible to catch one of relatively few international works in this year’s Festival, in two haunting, clever and formally innovative minimal installations created by Lyon-based artists Adrien M and Claire B, with Parisian graphics studio Brest Brest Brest. Acqua Alta (****) involves a series of small book-shaped installations arranged around a large boardroom table, which, when we download an app and point our phones at them, come alive with beautifully drawn images of a tiny and fragile shadow couple, whose quiet domestic life is overwhelmed one day by a great flood of inky water.
Fauna (****) features eight enigmatic monochrome posters placed around the walls of Summerhall, which – when we likewise point a phone at them – morph into brief, beautiful and humorous animations about a world of black, blob-like fauna. Both installations carry a powerful sense of a world on the brink of profound biological change; perhaps sweeping away humanity, with all its fragile hopes and wishes, and replacing us with something very different indeed.
This year’s Manipulate programme, though, is 80 per cent UK-made; and over the weekend The Studio presented two powerful pieces of physical theatre, both of which represent the current strength-in-depth of physical and visual theatre in Scotland. Sadiq Ali’s The Chosen Haram (****), performed by Ali with fellow dancer Hauk Pattison, is a brave, thrilling and poignant one-hour show, using dance and impressive pole-based circus skills to explore the tensions and yearnings surrounding a young Muslim man torn between his faith and his gay sexuality.
Lewis Sherlock and Ali Moloney’s After Metamorphosis (****), by contrast, uses an compelling mixture of performed text, visual imagery, sound and movement to conjure up a thrilling 55-minute response to Franz Kafka’s classic story, reframing and reimagining it for the 21st century, and extending Kafka’s original vision out into a world caught in frantic renegotiation of the relationship between the animal and the human.
And meanwhile, normal service has been resumed at the Edinburgh Playhouse, which this week played host to the UK tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School Of Rock (****), a thoroughly jolly original musical about a hopeless hipster rock musician who accidentally takes up teaching at a posh private school, and within weeks turns his snobby little pupils into an ace rock band.
It’s an improbable yarn and a slightly strange show, filtering the material of the 2003 American high school movie through the very English sensibility of Lloyd Webber and scriptwriter Julian Fellowes. In the end, though, its sheer love affair with the rebellious power of rock music is impossible to resist; in a show lit up, from start to finish, by a powerful and witty central performance from Jake Sharp, and by three superb 14-strong casts of rock star schoolkids. Manipulate 2022 is at Summerhall and The Studio, Edinburgh, until 7 February. School of Rock at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 7-12 March.
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