The End Of TV is visual theatre at its best. Manual Cinema’s production features four actors, an array of characters, mask work, a barrage of puppets – some real and some shadow – and a live band; whirled together to make a visual feast that was performed in-person at Chicago’s Chopin Theatre in 2018. The live stream of the film was shown last night as the closing show for MANIPULATE Festival, Puppet Animation Scotland’s annual celebration of innovative puppetry, visual theatre and animated film.
The show tells the story of Flo, an older lady in the American Midwest, living her last days amidst the tawdry trappings of consumerism, taunted and tormented by all that she has lost. She has dementia so what’s real and what’s appropriated from her TV diet increasingly merge, adding to the confusion in her failing mind. Louise has lost her job, finds a new one as a local meals on wheels delivery driver and so encounters Flo. And we see a burgeoning friendship unfold.
Set in the 1990s, the story’s shot through with snapshots of contemporary advertising – for cat food, sweetcorn, coaching – and the seductive lure of the shopping channel. Separate sets and cameras and live relays to a screen looming large above it all mean the two strands of the story are interwoven in an incredible feat of live storytelling.
We see Jeffry Paschal and Vanessa Valliere posing as characters in the advertising, QVC hosts, even a mindfulness guru setting out to extract more of your hard-earned cash from your wallet for his promises of peace. For all that Flo appears principally in shadow form throughout, it’s incredible to see the emotion Kara Davidson still manages to convey in her performance as the lonely, nostalgic lady looking back on her life and wishing it had turned out differently. Aneisa Hicks as Louise provides a jaunty vigour and a tentative optimism that things could be better.
With a five piece band, glorious vocals from Marques Toliver and Maren Celest among others, the live action, intricate puppetry, shadow work and the ongoing choice (if you’re in the live audience) of which of it to watch, it’s the sort of show that makes you yearn to be in a theatre. That said, the fact that film plays such a central role in the production makes it an easy candidate for an online rendition. And there’s something all the more poignant about watching Flo’s increasing addiction to a screen, when we ourselves are also doing so, albeit with little other choice.
It’s sad to see yet another festival forced to take to the internet to share their work. But MANIPULATE have made a lovely job of it; and if it allows us to share work of the calibre of Manual Cinema, maybe it’s not all bad.
MANIPULATE runs from 27 Jan – 7 Feb 2021