While the country continues to be on lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the theatre industry keeps  carrying on in whatever way it can. In an attempt to maintain some semblance of normality in these unprecedented times – despite little to no assistance from the UK government – many festivals have turned their attention online to present digital festivals, allowing talent to continue showcasing their work. 

Following suit is MANIPULATE Festival, Puppet Animation Scotland’s annual celebration and showcase of international puppetry, visual theatre, and animation. Running from 29 January –  7 February, the 14th edition of the festival will take a digital form, providing festival fans and new audiences with the opportunity to enjoy the line-up from the comfort of their own homes.

MANIPULATE 2021 will feature a medley of performances, screenings, and workshops from artists originally lined up to perform live at the festival’s Edinburgh home of Summerhall. The artists have now adapted their work to film or are experimenting in a digital space for our viewing pleasure. Audiences are able to attend evening premiere events, where they can stream a curated line-up of both live and pre-recorded works in real time alongside festival audiences across the world to simulate the ‘live theatre’ experience. Alternatively, they can watch via catch-up through MANIPULATE’s website until midnight on 7 February.

Performances this year include several premieres of new and exciting work in a variety of mediums. Israeli puppeteer Ariel Doron presents Unboxed, a funny, sensitive, and scary fantasy about a lonely man trying to get in touch with himself and the world that is based on his previous live work Boxed. Emergent comedy ensemble LARDS are set to utilise their specialisms of clown, physical theatre, and character work to present their first music video in DRACKATTACK. Fringe favourites Manual Cinema will make their debut at MANIPULATE with their acclaimed The End of TV , which explores the quest to find meaning amongst the increasingly constant barrage of commercial images and advertising white-noise, as told through a collection of 70’s R&B inspired art pop songs.

MANIPULATE also gives theatre companies the chance to experiment and feature works in progress at various levels of development through their SNAPSHOTS series. This year’s festival will include five such shows from a number of different styles. Kasia Zawadzka is set to perform her latest project ILL-LIT, an exploration of mental health, cycles of repetition, and the struggle to break out through shibari – the Japanese art of rope bondage. Zoë Bullock and Alice Langley will present their latest project, tank, which utilises digital animation and live performance to examine one woman’s loneliness and anxiety regarding climate change. It’s not all entirely new work, though, as performance maker Tashi Gore, visual theatre expert Ross MacKay, and playwright Will Gore reconvene to present the second development of The Yellow Canary. This time the show has been made to work in a new digital format while continuing the narrative which leaps into the imagination of a young child desperate to escape the horrors of war.

Also on offer are panels and strands which highlight short form work from around the world. Edinburgh Short Film Festival will return to MANIPULATE to curate another dynamic collection of international short animated films with Animated Highlights 2021. This year’s selection includes work from Slovenia, Belgium, New Zealand, and the UK to name but a few, each exploring moments of connection and isolation. Likewise, Animated Womxn will present a womxn-led showcase of stop-frame and VFX from the animated film industry. The collection aims to address the gender imbalance in the animated film industry as it displays work of women regardless of whether they are cisgender, transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, or intersex. The panel will also be followed by a panel discussion as five of the selected animators: Kate Jessop, Camila Kater, Erentia Bedeker, Vanessa Sweet, and Ali Aschman will discuss their creative practice and experience as womxn in the industry.

Despite its short run time, this year’s MANIPULATE festival is set to offer something for everyone across a variety of mediums and genres. 


MANIPULATE runs from 29 Jan to 7 Feb. A full programme can be found here

Digital passes can be purchased via MANIPULATE’s website here