Theatre review: Manipulate 2018

Gregory Houben  and Agnes Limbos are a couple who represent western civilisation at its most fragile and aggressive
Gregory Houben and Agnes Limbos are a couple who represent western civilisation at its most fragile and aggressive
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ANXIETY was the word, in the first half of this week’s Manipulate Festival at the Traverse Theatre: from anxiety about the whole course of western civilisation, to the blue funk of a fearful and compulsive woman in a supermarket, terrified of objects which are not red.

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

In Ressacs (****) by Compagnie Gare Centrale of Belgium, the brilliant and much-honoured Belgian maker-performer Agnes Limbos and her stage partner Gregory Houben become a couple who represent western civilisation at its most fragile and aggressive.

Sitting at a little table peopled by simple objects, they conjure up a series of worlds, as the couple first lose their conventional suburban way of life, then wash up on a desert island which they begin to dominate and exploit like a colonial queen and emperor, and finally get into fossil fuels in a big way, until everything blows up in their faces. What a pair of darlings they are, these archetypal first world characters; and yet how utterly lethal.

The same Limbos-style imagery is also visible in Compagnie A of France’s Song Of The Goat (***), in which a suburban idyll between neighbouring houses is smashed when a man in a messy caravan moves in between them, along with his large and disturbing billy-goat.

Israeli artist Ariel Doron’s similarly-styled show Plastic Heroes (****) attacks the stupidity, cruelty and lethal tedium of war using little plastic soldier toys of the kind that still dominate some shelves of every toy department, and one particularly beautiful stuffed tiger.

And then there is the dance-based double bill Peurbleu and Don’t Be Afraid (****) by C&C Company of Italy. In Peurbleu, Chiara Taviani is a woman in a red coat and hood in a supermarket full of red containers, anxiously reverse-shopping from a red plastic basket. And in Don’t Be Afraid, inspired by Debussy’s L’Apres-Midi d’Un Faune, Carlo Massari gives an extraordinary performance as a gorgeous male life-force gradually brought down by age, sickness, arrogance and foolishness, but somehow still defiantly in motion.

Early shows at this year’s Manipulate also included an inspiring edition of the festival’s Snapshots showcase for emerging Scottish artists, and a tentative glimpse of new puppetry work from its Testroom puppetry project, run jointly with the National Theatre of Scotland and the Tron. And as ever, it’s interface between top-flight international work and young Scottish-based artists that makes the Manipulate Festival such a satisfying creative event, as it rolls on through its final performances today.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Manipulate is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until tonight.