Hotel de Rive
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Puppetry and mask work, choreographed movement (of an inventively untoward kind) and the resourceful imagination to turn ordinary cardboard boxes into the stuff of modern warfare and human tragedy - the closing days of this seventh Manipulate festival of visual theatre was a thrilling encapsulation of how live performers can gain dramatically from the presence of seemingly inanimate objects.
Thursday night brought the hybrid artistry of Hotel de Rive, a three-fold collaboration inspired by the life and work of the sculptor Alberto Giacometti. On-stage, French actor Patrick Michaelis, German puppeteer Frank Soehnle, Swiss musicians Jean-Jaques Pedretti and Robert Morgenthaler conjured up the bizarre, fantastical madness that flooded Giacometti's thoughts - and diary entries - during a period of crisis and self-imposed isolation in Geneva.
One note, in September 1963, read: "I've got the feeling, that I am an unclear person, a little hazy, in the wrong place. Think about it."
This state of random, freefall mania emerges, stealthily at first, in the words chalked on a projected blackboard and spoken by Michaelis against a disjointed musical accompaniment of trombone parps and alphorn groanings. But then Soehnle starts to introduce the spindly-skeletal small-scale marionettes that echo not just Giacometti's own sculptural style but the bleak, surreal twists in the texts he wrote in his hotel room "cell". Watching Soehnle play the bony limbs of these jangly little figures over Michaelis's face and head - scratting against his bald patch, tangling in his fluffed-up hair - is like glimpsing how Giacometti's mind was seized by dark imaginings.
Yes, of course, the huge spider with such appallingly busy feeler-legs isn't real: but when it's draped, like a restless skull-cap on Michaelis's pate, it hovers on the brink of slapstick nightmare.
At one point, both musicians rear up their alphorns and place them, like book-ends, on either side of the actor's head - he's hemmed in by them, and their voices, while the array of eerie puppets dangling overhead in mid-air hints at the inspiration that's just out of his reach.
The whole collusion of visual imagery, text, music and lighting design produces a brooding, poetic limbo where reality warps, and yet continues to haunt the artist - challenging him to make sense, and sculpture, out of it. Grotesque, elegant, unnerving, unexpectedly humorous: Hotel de Rive is a profound - and superbly performed - excursion into the turmoil of making art, and then opening up that journey to an audience.
Polina Borisova took audiences on a journey of a different kind in Go!, but here too there was a wealth of information to be gleaned from the canny use of props and the expressive body language that revealed the feisty side to the little old lady pottering round her lonely room - Borisova herself in a white wig and squashed up facial mask.
There's a huge amount of wistful charm here, but the sentiment is held nicely in check simply because the character herself has a resolute playfulness - just look at how she turns a roll of sticky tape into an ad hoc "paintbrush" and outlines all her memories pictorially on the back wall, before creating her own, metaphoric exit.
A wee gem of a show.
Tortoise in a Nutshell made a real impression on the Edinburgh Fringe of 2012 with Grit, and even if this revival wasn't quite as crisp or as intense as that earlier airing it still succeeds in drawing us into the human heart of a cardboard cut-out world. For Amy (an almost-life size puppet girl) the boxes belonging to her dead father seem to hold only images of the children he photographed on his assignments to war-zones. But as the voice-over, the projections caught on white cards - like camera images on a view-finder - or the sudden setting up of a paper city that comes under bombardment all bring home to Amy, her father died trying to protect a little girl just like her... She can be proud, and we can't help but be moved.
Long, intertwining-tendrilling legs, bare-cheeked bottoms sprouting up like curious, headless, creatures and a total dislocation of the norms of human bodies into alien-animal species - ah yes, it's the Editta Braun Company with Planet Luvos, the follow up to their 2012 hit at Manipulate. The slinky flexibility of the five female dancers is astounding, but somehow this vision of a future world is more Disney than post-apocalypse Darwin.