Manipulate Festival

Song of the Goat/Ressacs

Traverse, Edinburgh

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Mary Brennan, four stars

THESE two productions – both UK premieres by French companies - frequently have an air of childhood play about them. Both create little worlds on table-top models, use toy animals, toy cars and miniature props in their story-telling - and both cunningly warp the brightly-coloured, naive look of their work into exploring very dark social issues indeed.

In Song of the Goat (by Compagnie å) the animal in question is discovered dead in the opening scene - the subsequent flashback is enough to raise our suspicions: it was the goat-owner’s two sniffy neighbours wot did it. Why? in their neat, tidy suburban world - nice house, nice car, big dog - the scruffy guy with the goat just didn’t fit in. Hostilities erupt in snarling matches, with the dog owners unleashing their own inner beasts: it turns vengeful and ugly and hilariously ridiculous until the goat is killed... by its owner. That’s really where the knife twists unexpectedly: how far will an unwanted outsider go in order to belong in such a narrow-minded society?

There’s more brilliant black humour in Ressacs (by Compagnie Gare Centrale) with Agnes Limbos and Gregory Houben as the couple for whom more is never enough. Having lost everything they own, they’re (literally) at sea, terrified. Cast up on an island paradise, are they grateful? Only briefly, before greed returns and they start lucrative plantations and exploiting the natives. Each disastrous loss is followed by an even more ambitious episode of empire-building, the echoes of erstwhile colonial power-grabbing and the ongoing destructive abuse of natural resources vividly depicted by small-scale props and larger-than-life performances. It’s laceratingly astute, and - like Song of the Goat - rejoices in having live music as a sly commentary on comedic action with a thought-provoking sting in its tale.