feralFeral exhibits extraordinary puppetry and multimedia techniques. It’s skilful and very impressive, but lacks the human touch that would make it a really satisfying theatrical experience.

Tortoise in a Nutshell builds a model seaside town out of monochrome cardboard: there’s a church, a butcher, a baker, and a wonderful funfair. Once the performers have constructed the town, they descend with video cameras and create exceptional sequences of snapshots, moving around the town together, allowing the audience to see its character and its life. The feeds are projected onto a screen that hangs above the audience, and technicians sit on the sides of the stage, cutting the feeds and mixing the sound effects live.

This is all visually stunning – the best section is a sequence at the fairground, where the smell of candy-floss is sprayed out into the audience, and the cameras zoom in on the different attractions that the fairgoers are enjoying.

In terms of technical skill, this production is difficult to fault. But Feral is lacking a substantial human narrative, and it’s subsequently quite hard to feel involved or moved by what the performers are creating.

Early on, the company seem to be introducing us to a central character, who makes a scrapbook and gets excited about the new ‘supercade’ that is about to open in town. When it does open, however, the emphasis shifts from this character to the demise of the town as a whole. This provides ample opportunity to construct yet more intricate scenes, this time of urban decay. But what the audience is left with is a collection of establishing shots, a before and after picture of a town, rather than an involving narrative.

Feral has a similar feel to a Pixar short that’s created in front of its audience’s eyes. But what Tortoise in a Nutshell has overlooked is that what makes similar short films so powerful is almost always a human pulse. There are other formal implications that are underexplored here: watching the scene being created leads to questions about the nature of play, of the relation between performer and puppet, of the ethics of a destructive imagination. The techniques are outstanding, but there’s much more to investigate in this company’s visual laboratory.

Feral is at Underbelly Bristo Square (Venue 300) until 24 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. For more information and tickets see the Edinburgh Fringe website.