Part of Manipulate Festival, Edinburgh’s annual programme of visual theatre and animated film, Ferguson and Barton is the latest show from Glasgow-based dance-theatre company Shotput. Inspired by the 1958 American film noir classic Vertigo and performed by co-creators Lucy Ireland and Jim Manganello, Ferguson and Barton discusses Hitchcock’s enduring masterpiece through a combination of dramatic spoken word, interpretive dance, and visual theatre.
Over the last year or so I’ve been lucky enough to witness some exceptional creative theatre in Edinburgh – Help Yourself (Hidden Door Festival), Police Cops, Skank, Dot Dot Dot Dash (Edinburgh Festival Fringe) – so I was immediately intrigued by Shotput Theatre’s concept. All cards on the table, the realm of interpretive dance lies firmly outside my wheelhouse. Even after reading the press release and watching the trailer I was still a little unsure of what to expect. Despite my reservations, the show’s subject matter and the trailer’s visual flair and music (a French version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ no less) tempted me enough to give Ferguson and Barton a shot, and I’m glad I did.
The show turned out to be just as much of a visual feast as the trailer suggested, feeling very filmic in its presentation. Live cameras were carried and wheeled around the floor, positioned to capture very specific angles of the performance and display them on screens around the stage. This technique created several layers to the action and when combined with dynamic lighting, cinematic projections, a keen focus on reflections and well-placed musical cues, there was a strong sense of being on a live film set, one that could morph and change dramatically as needed.
This visual style was the perfect companion for what the show turned out to be, an engaging and in-depth piece of film criticism. Something that analysed Vertigo’s thrilling twists and turns and dissected the art of filmmaking (and Hitchcock’s mastery of it), while probing the depths and complexities of human relationships.
Laid out like that, it all sounds a touch serious, but Lucy Ireland’s measured walk across the room (to turn the lights down) and then back again – eyes locked with the audience, face set with a cheeky half-smile – injected some playful humour right from the outset. It was immediately disarming and let the audience know that there might be some irreverence to come.
What followed was a series of humorous monologues and deep discussions interspersed with interpretive dance – sometimes portraying the action, sometimes describing moods and feelings, always visually interesting – but occasionally flying over my head. Inevitably it was the slightly more straightforward recreations of key moments that consistently struck a chord with me. Manganello’s hat-swapping rendition of the film’s heart-stopping opening scene was a thrilling and hilarious highlight, but my personal favourite moment was an inspired shot-by-shot breakdown that punctuated the theatrical dialogue with spoken word descriptions for the set-up of each shot.
Perhaps I should have made a point to watch Vertigo in advance. Having not seen it for a few years, I initially felt at a slight disadvantage, even with the openly discussed tongue-in-cheek effort to avoid spoilers (by changing the main character’s names). Some of those dance sequences might even have made more sense to me if the film was fresh in my mind’s eye but honestly, it didn’t hamper my overall enjoyment of the show. While I can’t pretend to have understood everything I saw on stage that night, ass a fan of cinema, film-making, film criticism and creative theatre, Ferguson and Barton was an overwhelmingly positive experience, and one that can stand proudly next to those shows I mentioned earlier. If that intrigues you in the slightest, I’d urge you to keep an eye out for it over the coming year.
I’m now ready to devour Ferguson and Barton’s associated podcast (The Shotput Podcast), re-watch Vertigo and hopefully develop a better understanding and appreciation of some of those more bewildering moments.
For more from Shotput theatre company: Shotput.