Have a Gander – Manipulate 2023

The Manipulate Festival, Edinburgh’s international festival of animation film, puppetry, and visual theatre returns for its ambitious 16th season. This year’s festival will run from February 2nd – 12th across multiple physical and online venues in and around Edinburgh.

In two weeks’ time, Edinburgh will host the return of one of the most extensive international Festival events (and it’s even better than the other one in August). Returning for its sixteenth edition, MANIPULATE festival will feature a diverse array of visual storytelling – some of which you might encounter on your daily stroll throughout the city.

MANIPULATE is a celebration of artistry and storytelling, specialising in visual theatre, movement, and animated film – with a focus on imbuing life into the mundane, and the inanimate and sharing tales through imagery and optics. And this year, MANIPULATE looks to alleviate as much of the barriers for their D/deaf audiences for the 2023 season, an encouraging decision: especially welcomed given the festival’s presentation form as a primarily visual medium. Organisers of MANIPULATE have made a commitment to present a wider range of work which benefits from BSL interpretation for spoken word events, closed captioning across performances, incorporating non-verbal installations and working with Deaf artists.

A full list of all performances which offer BSL interpretation closed captioning or have incorporated some aspect of inclusive representation accessible access, and information relating to the venue’s access and contact details may be obtained here.

After a diluted programme following the onset of Covid- 19 restrictions, MANIPULATE returns from February 2nd – 12th with a staggeringly ambitious and expansive programme taking full advantage of the cities venues, featuring shows live within the city centre and online, as well as with the Traverse Theatre, Summerhall, The Studio at Festival Theatre Potterrow, and Fruitmarket Galleries.

Throughout the festival, projected onto the front of the National Library of Scotland, Un-retained, a project by Sandman – a collaboration between multimedia artist Gertjan Jiasion, choreographer Sabine Molenaar and composer Jochem Baelus combines audio-visual techniques, dance, and projection to tell the enthralling and weightless story of humanity. Available to watch every night of the festival from 5 pm – 11 pm. 

Also free for audiences, citizens and visitors of the capital might just have the luck to run into a pair of large-scale illuminated hands roaming the setts (cobbles) of the city. An opening exhibition, created by Fergus Dunnet and Ronan McMahom, The Dab Hands will usher in the 2023 festival. And for those feeling brave, The Opening Night Party is a welcome affair for all to obtain a brief insight into the madness, the beauty, and the exuberance of it all with pop-up performances, live music, and sneak peeks – oh, and Dab Hands might just make an appearance here too… 

The Studio, Potterrow

Featuring Scottish, UK, and World premieres – The Studio, Potterrow – located behind the Festival Theatre is a superb space for physical-based performances and micro-pieces. 

One of the festival highlights, Scottish-based company Shotput defies Hollywood norms with Ferguson and Barton. Taking inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Shotput finds the pair awaking in a cinematic dreamscape, leading to the exploration of power dynamics within their relationship (an emerging theme across the festival) as they explore communication and miscommunication, prurience, gender roles, and sensuality. A one-off performance, Ferguson and Barton is performed on Saturday, February 4th at 6.30 pm. 

And this isn’t the only Studio feature which takes inspiration from the master of suspense, with Festival returnee Agrupación Señora Serrano bringing their new piece of micro-cinema, Birdie, to the venue on February 2nd at 8 pm and February 3rd at 6 pm for a Scottish premiere. A multimedia performance which explores migration – thousands of migrating birds form impossible shapes within the sky, manifesting two mirages: one of war, drought, and deforestation, and the other of stability and renewable energies. 

Bringing the everyday fairy-tale magic to audiences in Edinburgh, Anna Nekrassova presents a solo performance of Before Thumbelina on February 7th and 8th at 8 pm. Carried with song, rhythm and puppet-based object theatre, this touching story on the struggles of infertility takes place in the lead-up moment to H.C. Anderson’s renowned Thumbelina

Partway through the festival, The Studio will host the World premiere of Tashi Gore, Ross Mackay, Will Gore and Glass Performance’s The Yellow Canary for a one-off show on Thursday, February 9th. Together, performance maker Gore, together with playwright Gore and visual theatre expert Mackay create a hybrid performance utilising digital animation, crafting a truly epic adventure tale of imagination as a young child explores love, loss, and the difficulties of fleeing one’s home in another example of MANIPULATE’s overarching theme of migration and refuge. 

Closing out The Studio’s time with the festival this year, VOX Muziektheater presents the UK premiere of Poor Thing, continuing MANIPULATE’s focus on international puppetry. Combining the grandeur of Opera and object theatre, Poor Thing finds three musical funeral directors who attempt to reconstruct the life of a forgotten anonymous Jane Doe through her belongings. This gloriously macabre, and melancholy ode to embracing life is performed at 2 pm and 6 pm on February 11th and is undoubtedly a highlight of the festival for us. 

The Traverse Theatre

Early into the festival, the home of emerging writing, the Traverse Theatre, hosts two world premiere events for MANIPULATE. First, Paper Doll Militia’s Anthropoda on February 3rd and 4th at 8 pm. 

Pioneers in original Aerial Theatre, Scottish-based company Paper Doll Militia are an innovative production group who desire to enrich cultural life and education, driven by storytelling and vibrant movement, whose previous work Egg has been a past festival success. Arthropoda is a gripping piece of original circus aerial theatre, unravelling the complexities of relationships, told through the analogy of lobster fishing, and a lobster confined to a creel, and though able to leave, chooses not to. 

Hosting the world premiere of renowned theatre artist Ramesh Meyyappan, the Traverse is proud to be showing Meyyappan, Vanishing Point & Raw Material’s Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance) for two performances on February 10th and 11th at 8 pm. Incorporating sign language into the fabric of the show this tender love story follows Harry, who has dementia, as events from the past and present entwine as Harry comes to terms with a new home. Bewildered, Harry’s nurses begin to get to grips with his language, just as Harry starts to forget, leading him into a unique world with only himself. 


Located on Market street, to the side of Waverley Station, the Fruitmarket Gallery is a tremendous artistic and expressive space for local and international artists. 

A key component of MANIPULATE is their showcase of animation. 2023 is no different with the return of Animated Womxn: International Shorts at the Fruitmarket on February 4th from 1,30pm. This tremendous screening of award-winning female and non-binary animators spanning the globe comes together to showcase their extraordinary animations. Additionally, from 11 am on the 4th, MANIPULATE’s other Animated Highlights will pack in a staggering demonstration of animation techniques, styles, and stories from realms unconsidered. In partnership with Edinburgh Short Film Festival – these screenings will be available to see in person at the Fruitmarket but will then be available digitally for those unable to attend. 

Into the Long Green Jaws is an additional world premiere for the festival, presented by Long Green Jaws – musicians Fergus Hall and Sarah McWhinney. Taking ambient, improvised music and fusing it with installation art, puppetry and performance, this visual gig-based theatre explores the sophistication and vital balance of the coastal environment. The world premiere performance will be performed on February 5th at 3.30 pm at Fruitmarket, with a relaxed performance at 11 am.

Embracing the festival’s promotion of home-grown talent, Scotland-based performance artist Suzi Cunningham performs a double bill of Rules to Live By, a celebration of transformation and Eidos, a tribute to Suzi’s punk-in-her-own-right Grandmother at the Fruitmarket on February 6th at 6.30 pm. 

Following a tremendously successful world premiere at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Two Destination Language and Katherina Radeva’s 40/40 celebrates women’s – especially those over 40 – resilience, labour, sadness, and pleasures. Further exploration of identity, specifically migrant identity, Radeva of the award-winning duo Two Destination Language, is a woman, a dancer, and a migrant since 1999 from the Thracian Valley in Bulgaria. Kat interweaves honest audio voiceovers with music and dances to create a joyful space. Take this unique opportunity to join in the revolution, to dance and reclaim the beauty, mess, and glorious complexities of womanhood. 

Following its performance at the Edinburgh Fruitmarket Gallery on February 7th at 6 pm, 40/40 will tour the Glasgow Tramway, Colchester Arts Centre and make its London debut at The Place on February 23rd. 

Combining instillation with filmed puppetry, Vision Mechanics’ The Fantastic Life of Minnie Rubinski investigates memory distortion with an intimate performance that audiences will find both moving and humourous in this often nonsensical journey. Each performance has a thirty-minute time slot from 12 pm – 5.30 pm on February 9th, and 11 am – 5.30 pm from February 10th – 12th. 

On the last day of the festival (February 12th), Fruitmarket offers a free public installation from puppetry and micro cinema-theatre expert Gavin Glover, A Rock and a Hard Place, from 11 am – 6 pm, imagines a parallel world. This installation features a collection of mini dioramas making up Earth, Sky, Sea and the Mind with accompanying audio.


Over at Summerhall, where the festival kicks off with its Opening Night Party, a host of unique and diverse performances will occur throughout the festival – starting with a UK premiere of Ljubljana Puppet Theatre’s Moč (The Power). This performance stays true to the heart of MANIPULATE’s adoration and promotion of high-quality puppetry for adults, as the festival favourite team returns to use their intimate and exceptional puppet-object theatre to question motivations of power and the public versus private. Featuring multiple performances across the festival, audiences can catch Moč (The Power) on February 4th (8 pm), 5th (2 pm and 5 pm) and on Monday, February 6th at 5 pm and 8 pm.

Ensuring there is no shortage of aerial and rope performances at the festival, pioneer of self-suspension rope performance Kasia Zawadzka’s Ill Lit opens the audience to the idea of the obsessive inner voice and its restrictive powers at fending off peace. Returning after a successful work-in-progress digital season as a part of MANIPULATE 2021, this full production on February 7th at 8 pm utilises the Japanese art of Shibari to explore repetitions and mental health. 

Send in the clowns. And despite its name, Clown Cabaret with Plutot La Vie is oh, so much more than the jesters and harlequins the title conjures. Spare an evening for a tremendous event, as audiences are invited to Summerhall for an evening of cabaret, chaos, and vivid imagination as four clown acts lead audiences through the wild, bizarre, and sublime. Hosted by Isidora Bouziouri, this evening will feature: Moldova-born, Glasgow-based physical theatre maker Ruxandra Cantir’s Make You Cry, as a sad onion reads us a mushy love poem. Also on offer are Saul Smith and Kirstin Halliday’s Crawling King Snake, and Lucy McGreal’s fourth character performance of Ruby in Currently Expecting. Before closing out with True Love’s Kiss by Lisette Bowman. Join the evening, with a drink included in the ticket price, on February 10th from 6 pm. 

With plenty of works-in-progress features for audiences to engage with and share their responses, Summerhall offers a creative and safe space for many producers to do so. And SNAPSHOTS offers a first look at six Scottish artists’ new pieces of work: Alex Bird, Leonor Estrada Francke, Fiona Oliver Larkin, Jen MacGregor, Ninon Noiret, Kialy Tigngang all benefiting and providing new pieces of visual theatre workshops on February 5th at 7 pm.

Another work-in-progress double bill is being held on February 9th from 5.30 pm – featuring Sand, performed by Petre Dobre – marked as a highly visual movement performance that utilises object manipulation and shadow puppetry to explore our dreams and dissect our nightmares. It is paired with Noah Tomson’s Between Earth and Moon, performed simultaneously in Scotland Argentina, drawing inspiration from Italo Calvo’s legendary surrealist short tale, Distance of the Moon.

Manipulate runs from February 2nd – 12th throughout Edinburgh.

A full listing of events, venues, and additional information may be obtained here.


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