A House in Asia

five stars

La Causeuse

three stars

The End of Things

two stars

Traverse, Edinburgh

We’re coming in to land - or so we think, as the cockpit footage being screened by Barcelona’s Agrupacion Señor Serrano carries us towards...the Twin Towers that were once part of New York’s skyline. Welcome to A House in Asia, a cunningly contrived and startlingly apposite reflection on the impact the events of 9/11 have had on the American psyche and the politics of global peace ever since.

The house in question is the one that Osama bin Laden occupied in Pakistan, a house that was replicated – for training purposes – on a military base in North Carolina, and subsequently copied again, this time in Jordan, for a film crew shooting a screen version of bin Laden’s fate at the guns of US Special Forces. A scale model of that house is now installed on-stage, along with a scattering of miniature trees, some tiny plastic figures that – once the live video-cam zooms in on them – will turn out to be the Cowboys and Indians that are intrinsic to America’s history and self-image, a mainstay of its film industry since its earliest black and white origins.

How does this all connect with the manhunt for bin Laden? The clue is in his code-name, Geronimo. Like the Apache chief before him, bin Laden becomes America’s “most wanted, dead or alive” and - like the great white whale in Moby Dick, another point of comparison in the piece – his eradication becomes the stuff of obsession. Running through this complex mash up of live images, text and film clips, however, is the unnerving sense of it all playing out like a game, a kind of instant myth-making where fact and fiction get mixed up even before the film delivers its version of the truth. The spectre of “fake news” haunts this outstanding production, given its UK premiere at Manipulate - a real 10th anniversary coup for Scotland’s thriving festival of visual theatre.

Canadian performer Olivia Faye Lathuilliere has her own way of tricking us into looking below the surface with La Causeuse/The Loveseat. It’s not just the squishy red plush armchair that she can’t get comfy with, its her own memories of a romance gone wrong that cause her to wriggle and squirm and eventually get eaten up by... the upholstery. It’s a lovely bittersweet balance between the ridiculous and the poignant, with Lathuilliere’s imagination as agile as her expressive physicality.

Frankly, it’s hard to view the farrago of self-indulgent acting exercises that make up The End of Things with much enthusiasm. It screams and postures through a succession of well-worn performance gambits that hinge on notions of departure, be that in an airport lounge or in the final melt-down of mankind – indeed, when the lugged-about suitcases disgorge piles of earth, you know bodies are going to roll around in it... This, like other sequences of uninhibited behavious, possibly felt dynamic to the Company of Wolves (Scotland) cast, but that energy never really reached out to the audience. That said, it’s a hugely important part of what Manipulate means to our emerging artists that they are encouraged to try out ideas in such a high-end context – hopefully they also took time to watch the many inspirational international production in this year’s showcase.