Manipulate Festival: On the Road at Tobacco Factory Theatre

There was something of an adventurous spirit present in this evening’s drama from Manipulate Festival: On the Road. At the Tobacco Factory (and Bristol) for the first time, the show this evening was a double bill; each of the two pieces performed by a solo female artist.

Aside from the description of ‘visual/object theatre’, the territory tonight is unknown. There is an air of anticipation. Our show starts as a woman enters the stage space. A folded sheet is waiting for her in the spotlight; ‘Cloth’ has begun and with it comes the feeling of being on pioneering territory. The sheet becomes a bed; one minute with peaceful sleeper, then with restless inhabitant we are moved along to the next manifestation; never still for long.

Under the skilful manipulation of the wearer and bearer, the cloth is brought to life. Tiffany Soiral’s performance is funny and beguiling, with subtle, effective communication and we are drawn into this piece of dance-based theatre. Facial expressions, particularly the eyes connect us with the performer. The action is swift and graceful. Now a birthing mother; now a sumo wrestler; now a bride; the movement flows with ease and it is a joy to watch the innovation. How many uses can a sheet have? Lots, it seems.

Occasional words and action sounds (the flying swooping bird being particularly memorable) are complimented by a fluid and melodic soundtrack; instrumental classical music mixed with beautiful layered voice harmonies. This all enhances the physical movement on stage. Soiral, alias Eve Klein & Sons, is captivating and holds the space with charm.

The second half of the evening takes us on a different journey. Filing in after the interval, we are followed by a woman looking for her seat with increasing pronouncement. ‘La Causeuse’ (the woman who speaks), is the next act and her seat, as she eventually discovers, is the red armchair centre stage. We are drawn towards this woman with a deadpan yet comically expressive face (reminiscent of slapstick artists of old) as she leads us through the most amazing, funny, agile, twitchy performance. The comic timing of performer Olivia Faye Lathuilliere is brilliant, as is her physical dexterity. The chair proves to be a prop with hidden depths (at times literally devouring the artist).

Sens Equivoc (the name of the performance collective, devised and directed by Lathuilliere) has us moving between belly laughs and dropping jaws at her antics. We are taken on the journey of a relationship expertly depicted by just a pair of miming hands, then introduced to the surprisingly real ‘significant other’ with only a dummy’s hand or two to support the performer. Superb use of lighting enhances this bold and sometimes dark depiction of human relationship through this wonderful piece of physical mime/dance theatre.

The two shows, though very different in content, complement each other. Engaging and masterful, the evening hits the spot completely, raising the bar for visual theatre.

See more about Manipulate Festival here


Image by Ilaria Maresi, with thanks

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