THE artistic director of a major Scottish festival has told of her heartbreak at having to axe 40% of the programme – but has assured audiences that many events will still go ahead.

Manipulate was due to return to hosting live performances on January 28 for the first time in two years, but organisers have been forced to adapt the programme because of uncertainty over when coronavirus restrictions would be eased.

“I am so disappointed to be sharing news of cancellations,” said Dawn Taylor. “We are heartbroken on behalf of the incredible artists who have been working hard to prepare artistic projects.

“We are working closely with all the artists affected to find ways to support the work to return to the stage soon.”

She pointed out that the pandemic had presented “enormous challenges” for the performing arts sector in Scotland, with freelance artists significantly affected.

“Every loss is a heartbreak and the people I feel for most are the artists, as their livelihood depends not just on this staging of their work but on who might see it and book it in the future,” said Taylor.

“Our artists are almost entirely freelance, from different disciplines and countries, and they are the ones who lose out most in these situations.

“However, I have been bowled over by their ability to meet the demands of the restrictions and find ways of bringing work to audiences. We are pleased some elements of the festival can go ahead in a way which prioritises the safety of all involved.”

Acclaimed for presenting outstanding visually led work that engages and challenges audiences, Manipulate aims to present the very best of Scottish and international puppetry, visual theatre and animated film.

Since it began 15 years ago, the volume of puppetry and visually led work for adults in Scotland has grown substantially, according to Taylor.

“Fifteen years ago, 80% of the work was international, but somewhere between 60% and 80% of the work is now from Scotland and the rest of the UK, so it’s a very Scottish festival now,” she said.

This year, half the programme was set to platform Scottish artists presenting work with themes including feminism, gender, identity, queer culture and sexuality, the environment, faith, mental health, power and war.

Many events will still go ahead in some form and highlights include After Metamorphosis, a dramatic reworking of Kafka’s classic by physical theatre artist Lewis Sherlock and performance writer Ali Maloney which puts toxic workplace culture and its effect on the individual under the lens. Another performance by a Scottish artist is Chosen Haram which deals with themes of addiction, connection, faith and sexuality and is the first-full length show from Edinburgh-born artist and performer Sadiq Ali.

For the second year running, the festival will platform and celebrate the work of womxn and non-binary animators from around the world. The programme features work employing a wide range of techniques and styles and includes some of the most decorated shorts in this year’s festival season.