Birdie and Arthropoda

Feb 4 2023 | By More

Manipulate returns for 2023

The Manipulate Festival returns for a 10 day event, making use of a variety of venues to showcase Scottish and International visual theatre, puppetry and animated film, for adult audiences in Edinburgh.

Allan Wilson has been to two shows on the opening weekend. Birdie, from Spanish micro-cinema company Señor Serrano which uses live projections of multimedia to tell its story of migration, and Arthropoda, from Edinburgh-based Paper Doll Militia, which uses aerial theatre to examine the worst of toxic relationships.


★★★★☆    Visual Feast

The Studio: Thu 2 – Fri 3 Feb
Review by Allan Wilson

Asunción Señor Serrano’s Birdie is a fascinating visual feast, combining projections of live and recorded, archive material, photographic images, text and sound to explore positive and negative themes associated with migration over time.

Positives include freedom, respect for human rights and social mobility, while negatives include war, exploitation of labour and destruction of natural resources.


The stage is dominated by a beautifully manicured golfing green, with hundreds of carefully arranged tiny models of dinosaurs, animals, people, vehicles, military equipment and tents, dominated by an oil rig. A hand-held camera projects appropriate details from the stage as the performance progresses.

Two tables at the side of the stage are covered with ‘real’ objects, e.g. a packet of cigarettes, an ash tray, pages of text, diagrams and photographs, which are also manipulated and projected during the performance.

A key section of the performance focuses on the Spanish city of Melilla, which is actually on the North Coast of Africa, and which has been surrounded since 2005 by a metal fence, up to 10 metres high.


A memorable photograph taken by José Palazón appears to focus on golfers enjoying a round on a beautiful course, but in the background are about a dozen migrants using ladders to try to climb over the fence to find sanctuary in the city. The provenance of various elements of the photograph are examined, with a golf ball from Taiwan, a cart from China, ladders from Spain and migrants from as far away as Bangladesh.

There are frequent references to migration of birds, from the swifts that pass through Spain on their way to Africa to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, where attacks on people by migrating birds lead a drunk to proclaim, “It’s the End of the World!”.

Underlining the performance is the idea of the Mitochondrial Woman, who could be defined through analysis of DNA to be the common ancestor of all living humans. The clear implication of this is that mankind has spread across the world only through migration.

Birdie is full of stunning imagery and thought-provoking ideas on migration that provide plenty of food for thought.

Running time: 60 minutes (no interval)


★★★★☆    Drama meets Circus

Traverse: Fri 3 – Sat 4 Feb
Review by Allan Wilson

Arthropoda, written and directed by Sarah Holmes, provides an interesting and often very effective combination of a two-character drama, circus skills and live music to tell the story of the toxic relationship between an intelligent, but naïve young woman and a man with anger management issues.

Daisy (Constanza Ruff) and Callum (Lee Partridge) literally bump into each other in an airport lounge as they are rushing to catch separate flights. There is an instant attraction between them so Callum leaves Daisy his phone number and a transatlantic telephone romance develops.

Arthropoda from Paper Doll Militia

Soon Daisy (from Maine) comes to Scotland to spend time with Callum, who soon openly admits that he has anger management issues, but that he is working on his mental health. Initially, these issues are revealed through nightmares, and Daisy tries to be supportive and understanding, but the relationship gradually deteriorates.

The actors demonstrate the various stages of the relationship through their proficient circus skills. In the early stages the cyr wheel demonstrates them coming together and living in harmony, but is used with greater violence as their relationship deteriorates. The trapeze also illustrates the changing nature of the relationship, but the most powerful image is provided by the use of hair suspension as Callum takes control over Daisy.

The play illustrates how difficult it can for a foreign national in the UK to maintain her independence in terms of banking, telephone, etc. As Callum gains control over Daisy, she struggles to maintain her separate identity, or find friends and support, making it even harder to leave him.


From time to time, Daisy returns to her childhood as the daughter of a lobster fisherman and describes various aspects of their life. Most notably, she describes how lobster traps are designed so that they can easily get into them, but it is almost impossible to escape, with obvious parallels to her adult relationship with Callum.

The performance is accompanied by live music on drums, bass and guitar, with Bado Réti and Joseph Weisberg at the back of the stage, enhancing the atmosphere of the piece behind a fishing net.

Arthropoda provides a powerful illustration of how an apparently perfect, loving relationship can lead over time into a very dark place.

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Full details Manipulate, running to Sunday 12 February, can be found on the Manipulate Website.


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