NOTo a single word can encapsulate Manipulate. The festival’s mix of animation, physical theater and puppetry defies easy categorization. The organization itself opts for “visually directed work”. On the strength of this year’s opening weekend, you can also call it a celebration of making something out of nothing.

This is no more the case than in Acqua Alta by French duo Adrien M & Claire B. Around a meeting table they have arranged a set of large books, opened to reveal pen-and-ink scribbles and simple structures. pop-up. Normally, you wouldn’t give them a second look.

It’s only when you open the app on your phone that you make sense of them. Thanks to augmented reality technology, the pages become miniature stage sets. Jumping around a flat-roofed house is a bickering couple, inky black figures moving with balletic grace. Their argument ends as the rain begins. To see what happens next, you move on to the next open book.

Flair and prowess… The Chosen Haram. Photography: Glen McCarty

Taking its name from Venice’s periodic floods, Acqua Alta follows the couple as they are torn apart by the rising waters, the man transforming from a tiny swimmer lost at sea to a hulking figure, reaching for his partner’s hair as they that they turn into sea anemone. During all this time, the room remains unchanged. It’s as if we had imagined it.

This is also the case with Fauna, from the same team, a series of posters of dramatic landscapes – craters, cliffs, waterfalls – from which dozens of amorphous black creatures emerge. Escaping through the halls of Summerhall, they’re comical and cute – and visible only to those in the know.

Along the way, in the Studio of the Théâtre du Festival, two occasional performances also play on the imagination. The Chosen Haram elevates a routine love affair between boy and boy into something dreamlike thanks to the weightless circus skills of Sadiq Ali and Hauk Pattison. Ali’s feature debut has a visual flair to match its technical prowess, even if its intriguing themes of Islam and sexuality are under-explored.

In After Metamorphosis, Lewis Sherlock embodies Franz Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, his tics and convulsions matched by the repeated phrases of Ali Maloney’s narration. With its thundering techno soundtrack, the physical theater show makes up for in intensity what it lacks in subtlety.

  • The Manipulate festival is taking place at Summerhall and the Studio, Festival theatre, Edinburgh, until February 5. The Chosen Haram is at Jacksons Lane, London, from February 4-6.