Manipulate Festival

The Frog at the Bottom of the Well, five stars

Almost Alive, four stars

Traverse, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

These final productions in Manipulate 2018 couldn’t have been more different in their concept, physicality and ingenious use of everyday objects – yet they both shared a haunting sense of us, as onlookers, being drawn into a stranger’s inner life and personal space. Like the poet, Thomas Hood, the central character in The Frog at the Bottom of the Well Believes the Sky is Round (by Velo Theatre from France) well remembers the house where he was born. And indeed, he recreates it for us on-stage and invites us in to see the fabric of his childhood experiences and influences. Like the frog of the title, his world view has been shaped by what happened in the rooms marked out on the floor and filled with domestic bric-a-brac. If the spoken narrative (with English translation) evokes boyhood games and discoveries, dreams and midnight terrors, the objects - mirrors, clocks, lamps - reveal exquisitely contrived secrets when we go on our tour of close-up inspection. The details here are shaded with delightful whimsies but the feel throughout is of a vividly alert imagination, stoked by a child’s curiosity and wonderment. Magical, wise and a tour de force of creativity - another memorable showing at Manipulate from Velo.

Black plastic sheeting is the alien landscape for Sabine Molenaar’s solo plunge into a state of near oblivion. Her body, wrenching and stretching - contorting into knots as if driven by angst - becomes something ‘other’. When the plastic wall starts heaving as if breathing, it’s as if she and it are connected - will it engulf her? Will she survive? Almost Alive (a Sandman production from Belgium) is an unrelenting test of physical endurance, made all the more harrowing by Molenaar’s intensely expressive immersion in depicting a conflicted state of mind.