The Seas of Organillo
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As if to underline the range of possibilities that are encompassed by the term "visual theatre festival", the opening days of this, the seventh Manipulate showcase, are simply bursting with crafty invention, crazy beauty and a propensity to surprise, delight and affect us. Monday night saw the Dudapaiva Company (Netherlands) do things with foam rubber that could make you wary of sitting on cushions or snuggling into pillows ever again.
In Bestiaires, the bendy-springy-stretchy material is the stuff of Greek gods and mythical monsters. Actually, what's really scary is how the three flesh-and-blood performers actively con us into believing that the slate-gray figures are alive, kicking and - in the case of the golden three-headed dog Cerberus or the slithery, glistening Medusa - biting and fighting like billy-o.
The excuse for all these antics is the current financial plight of Greece. From the craggy heights of Olympus - sculpted rubber, with nifty secret slits for hands to get to grips with the life-size puppets - the ancient gods have decided to do their bit for tourism and commerce.
Enter Cupid: no cutely dimpled boy, but a man in a dubious blonde wig and dark suit who's lost not just his arrows, but his 'boingggg...' He's here to rouse Hades, but antiquity isn't what it used to be and even Zeus - now reduced to a talking head - seems to have lost his marbles. If fun is readily poked at the legacy of myths and legends, there is a serious edge to the expert prancing, dancing and puppetry. As Hell is crated off to China, Cupid ruefully acknowledges that Greece's past is their best-selling export.
There's a fascinating postscript to Stephen Mottram's Seas of Organillo when the master himself shows and tells us about the making of the little pipe organ - the organillo - that was sampled by composer Sebastian Castagna for the production's eerie electro-acoustic sound-score. We've already seen Mottram's finesse and invention in action, but because the creatures who swim, couple and give birth in his underwater world appear with a (seemingly) effortless ease, the meticulous craft involved isn't made obvious.
Learning that the organillo was assembled from bits of wardrobe, drain pipes and hours of painstaking work nudges a fresh appreciation of the little mer-folk, fishes and even bubbles that float through this miniature narrative of creation. It's probably the most poetic visualisation of sperm meeting egg you're ever likely to see.
The anatomy of reproduction is translated into images of golden spheres (the ova) being wriggled into by determined fish (sperm) before the stages of development - and indeed the evolution of species - are exquisitely depicted in Mottram's minutely-detailed artefacts.
His own hands - he is both creator and sole puppeteer throughout - occasionally hover in the darkness, cradling or assisting. It is the human touch that reminds us that we too came from those mysterious seas.
Debut productions rarely come more fully formed, more accomplished or engaging than Faux Theatre's Torn, a new Scottish company powered by the imagination and energy of Francisca Morton. On a stage strewn deep with a clutter of white paper - even the bath is overflowing with it - Morton revisits a lost amour. Folks, she was jilted by a pair of jeans...
With foley artist Barney Strachan on-side, and visibly conjuring up the soundtrack of her picnic flirtations, smoochy overtures and subsequent messed-up emotions and domestic chaos, Morton's solo performance is a deliciously bitter-sweet slice of life. Her facial expressions, comic timing and ability to crunch a piece of paper into a wealth of believable props are a joy to watch - there's nothing false or make-believe about Faux's achievements in Torn.