Manipulate Festival: Three’s A Crowd, Butterfly (Ramesh Meyyappan)


JOYCE MCMILLAN on MANIPULATE FESTIVAL: THREE’S A CROWD at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and BUTTERFLY at the Arches, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 2.2.15. ________________________________________________________

Three’s A Crowd  3 stars ***
Butterfly  4 stars ****

IN THE DEPTHS of winter, the Manipulate Festival of visual theatre begins, filling the Traverse Bar with artists and delegates from Britain, Belgium, France, Italy,
America,  Russia and beyond.  There are talks, work-in-progress sessions, and fascinating late evenings of film and animation, continuing on Monday with a film-based tribute to Martyn Bennett.

And above all, there are the shows, exploring the big stage of Traverse One, and this year featuring two powerful new works by Scottish-based companies, one of which – Three’s A Crowd, by the Edinburgh aerial theatre group All Or Nothing – opened the festival’s main programme on Saturday night.

Set to a score by Luke Sutherland that alternates sharply – sometimes joltingly – between disco-like rock sound and and a pensive, almost childlike lyricism, Three’s A Crowd is a hugely ambitious show that brings together six aerialist-dancers on a steel-framed scaffolding set by Becky Minto, softened by hanging white silks and a huge, manoeuvrable white picture-frame.  As in Suspect Culture’s Timeless, almost 20 years ago, the theme is friendship, and the internal dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, pairing and uncoupling, lightheartedness and pain, that seems to stalk any group of twentysomething friends as they try to move on into adult life.

In Three’s A Crowd, it’s not always clear whether the primary aim of the 70 minute-show, directed by Jennifer Paterson,  is to tell a story and develop character, or simply to explore – in fragmented, almost workshop style – the choreographic potential of the various kinds of aerial work on view, using, for example, harnesses that enable the dancers to soar clear of the ground.  If the show sometimes looks artistically uneven, though, it seethes with energy and potential; and it revolves around a brilliantly intense cental performance by Itxaso Moreno, as the woman with the voice, who speaks for the group, and – in the show’s strongest moments – leads us into the heart of their inner drama.

There’s a far more complete, elegant and finished look, though, to Ramesh Meyyappan’s new 70-minute show Butterfly, set to arive at the Traverse on Thursday.  Loosely based on the story of Madam Butterfly, and also inspired by Nabokov’s Lolita,  Meyyappan’s latest work is an exquisite 60-minute piece of wordless theatre, in which the actress Ashley Smith plays a young woman – a talented kite-maker – whose life is threatened with ruin by the fiercely possessive passion of two men.

Driven along on the shimmering and darkening textures of a flowing, unobtrusively powerful score by David Paul Jones, Butterfly has a strong, simple narrative arc, and an almost magical relationship with the physical objects that fill Butterfly’s workshop room; not only the puppet that represents her child, but the kites and threads and butterfly jars that become part of her inner landscape.  At the show’s core, though, are three terrific performances from Smith as Butterfly, Martin McCormick as the customer, and Meyyappan himself as Nabokov, the Butterfly collector; performances that merge dance, movement, puppetry and dramatic acting with an intensity that forges those art-forms into a single storytelling impulse, beautiful, tragic, and true.

Three’s A Crowd at Eden Court, Inverness, on 7 February, and on tour; Butterfly at the Traverse, Edinburgh, 5 February.


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