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Manipulate 2011 Review

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
Which came first, chicken or egg? You’d be as well asking this age-old
philosophical question of puppeteer Nicole Mossoux and composer Patrick
Bonte, who as Compagnie Mossoux-Bonte brought their latest show, Kefar
Nahum, to this year’s Manipulate festival of visual theatre last week.
Named after the village that existed beside the Sea of Galilee and more
commonly known to westerners as Capernaum, Kefar Nahum attempts to get
to the biblical essence of creation via a series of fantastical
creatures created from assorted detritus and soundtracked by the
glitches of Bonte’s live electronic score.

It’s a blink and you’ll miss it affair, mind, as evolution moves on
before you’re ever allowed to get a handle on what makes its ancestors
tick. Even with such quick-fire constructions, however, Mossoux and
Bonte manage to serve up an eye-popping array of creatures on the road
to extinction.

And so to Jerk, French auteur Giselle Vienne’s astonishing staging of
American writer Dennis Cooper’s short story that puts real-life serial
killer David Brooks in the frame to re-enact his crimes with his
teenage partner in crime Wayne Henley and their older mentor Dean Corll
via a pair of cuddly glove puppets. If this sounds too daft to take
seriously, think again, because in one of the major highlights of this
year’s Manipulate, Vienne, Cooper and performer Jonathan Capdevielle
have created one of the most provocative and truly disturbing pieces of
theatre you’re likely to see.

It begins quietly enough, with Capdeveielle sitting on a chair beside a
ghetto-blaster as the audience enter. With the house lights still up,
Capdeveille as Brooks explains that we are an audience of psychology
students, and that the show and tell he’s about to present is part of
his therapy while incarcerated. He then gets us to read from a fanzine
apparently written by Brooks, one of several alienation devices used
throughout the show that force the audience to be much more than
passive observers.

There’s a beguiling intimacy to Capdevielle’s remarkable solo
performance that makes his actions all the more troubling as you bear
voyeuristic witness to a litany of sodomy, rape, torture and the murder
of young boys. The fact that no-one is actually being hurt onstage, but
that the discomfort is down to the distancing effect of the puppets
combined with the inner workings of the audiences mind is a simple but
devastating device. It is the suggestion of violence rather than any
flesh and blood sensationalist depiction of it, that is important here.
This is even more the case for the last third of the fifty-five minute
piece, when Capdeveielle dispenses of the puppets entirely to simply
throw his voice in a scarifying display.

Make no mistake. This isn’t what Tom Wolfe once dubbed pornoviolence,
designed to titillate thrill-seekers with the sort of gory material
they can only gawp at. Instead, by putting the audience in such an
uncomfortable position, Vienne and co force us to confront the dark
side of our imaginations in a stunningly intense and utterly grown-up
piece of work.

The Herald, February 7th 2011

ends

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