In the dark of an Edinburgh January, there’s always something magical about the first day of the Manipulate Festival of visual theatre at the Traverse. Suddenly, the building is full of cutting-edge theatre artists from across Scotland and across Europe and North America, taking part in workshops and masterclasses, sampling and responding to works in progress. It’s not a noisy festival, but below ground at the Traverse, it fairly simmers and glows; and on Saturday, the main attraction – in Traverse 1 – was the latest production by young Edinburgh company Tortoise In A Nutshell, now working with Danish company Katapult on a show called Fisk, about a man in crisis who sets sail in a fragile paper boat, apparently bent on suicide, only to be interrupted by an encounter with a huge and colourful fish.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
In truth, Fisk is a mixed bag of a piece, a combination of striking and beautiful visual imagery – the little man-sized paper boat lost in a huge blue sea of rolling fabric, under superb lighting by Simon Wilkinson – and effects, particularly around the sudden comic arrival of the good-time-girl fish, that don’t quite measure up to the content.
At the heart of the show, though, there’s a beautiful and subtle performance from Alex Bird as the man, and an increasingly passionate one from Arran Howie as the gradually evolving fish-woman, expressed through some memorably intense and quietly erotic physical movement. In this show, Tortoise In A Nutshell still look like a company in progress, feeling their way towards a balance between content and style; but the combination of passion, psychological realism and sheer physical beauty make this a memorable show, and one to seek out, on its coming Scottish tour.
Meanwhile, at the King’s, the new Attic Theatre Collective for young professionals in waiting announces its arrival with a no-holds-barred version of one of the rudest plays ever written, Aristophanes’ ancient Greek farce Lysistrata, in which the women of Athens try to put a stop to endless war by going on a sex strike.
As a satire against war-mongering patriarchy at its tumescent worst, Lysistrata could hardly be a more timely play; and with a script gently massaged to include plenty of contemporary soundbites, it’s hard not to wish that Susan Worsfold’s fast-paced production would slow down just a little, enough to savour the real politics behind a comedy in which all the men are reduced within days to a state of preposterous engorgement, represented here by a truly memorable range of pink phallic balloons.
It’s all good, dirty fun, though, with a searing central performance from Cait Irvine as Lysistrata. And as satires on male power and pride go, it’s certainly far cheekier than anything modern western culture has yet dared to produce. Let’s just say that I don’t think Donald Trump would like it; and that that’s likely to be even more true of the Attic Collective’s next production, Jo Clifford’s controversial War In America, scheduled to appear at the Royal High School in May.
*Manipulate is at the Traverse until 4 February. Fisk now on tour across Scotland until 20 February. Lysistrata, run completed.