Ruxy Cantir on Pickled Republic

Ruxy Cantir as Gherkin in Pickled Republic. Photo: Andy Catlin

Ruxy Cantir’s surreal theatrical cabaret for adults, Pickled Republic, combines Clown, Vaudeville, Bouffon, Physical Comedy, Mask Theatre, Puppetry and Movement theatre in what was described by All Edinburgh Theatre as ‘totally unqiue’ in their five star review.

Following a tour last year, Cantir returns to the show as part of Manipulate Festival’s 2024 line-up, playing at the Traverse Theatre later this week. The highly-absurd nature of the show spills out of the auditorium post-show, with the performance being followed by a ‘Pickle Party’ in the Traverse Theatre bar.

Ahead of the show we caught up with Cantir to find out more about her work.

Q&A with Ruxy Cantir

What can you tell us about your background in performance and theatre?

I trained in theatre in the US, and hold a Masters of Fine Arts in Ensemble Devised Physical Theatre. This was a rigorous 3-year programme set in the redwoods of California, where we studied physical theatre in the Lecoq tradition. It was an incredible programme where I came into my own as an actor-creator. My experiences, colleagues and teachers there have shaped my career.

I moved to Scotland 8 years ago and have been working in physical theatre and devised original work (outdoor and indoor) for at least as many years. I’m a big fan of masks, movement, ensemble work and I’ve been lucky enough to work with Scotland’s most notable organisations and physical theatre practitioners. I’m a sucker for silliness and nonsense, and that’s pretty much where I start with most of my work.

You’re taking your solo show Pickled Republic to Manipulate Festival – what’s it like to be performing at Traverse Theatre as part of the festival?

Well, Manipulate Festival is one of my most favourite festivals of all time and probably my most anticipated event every winter. Every long Scottish winter 🙂

Manipulate festival was one of the first events I attended when I first moved to Scotland, admiring the artists who were in it and their art, so getting to perform at it with a solo show now feels very special. I’m grateful to be part of the brilliant line-up of artists this year.

What can you tell us about the show?

Pickled Republic is a show that’s been swimming in my head for over 8 years now and I’ve been chipping away at it, by way of making and testing material for it for as many years – one scene or character at a time. I’m lucky to have found the collaborators for it that embraced the absurd as much as me on this journey, because it really needed some sillies to bring the show to fruition.

Set in a pickling jar that’s going off, the show follows a few pickled veg characters that are dealing with their demise in their own particular riotous way. There’s a pickled tomato lamenting she’s not been picked for eating, and an onion poet sharing some spicy poems, just to mention a couple characters. And it’s all against the backdrop of an absurd cabaret teaming inventive clowning, puppetry and mask theatre to create a stirring spectacle of pitch-black humour and pulpy carnage.

I’m a big fan of theatre of the absurd, and you’ll find some here. I call it an unearthly cross between Eugene Ionesco nonsense and David Lynch smoky mystery that explores despair, purpose and (un)fulfilment in the most ungraceful way.

Ruxy Cantir as Gherkin in Pickled Republic. Photo: Andy Catlin

What was the inspiration for the show?

I was born and raised in Moldova, and spent my childhood there during the trailing end of the Soviet Union. The Absurd was everywhere, and we lived with it every day as Moldova, like many other Soviet republics, were trying to forge an identity and statehood in the rubble of an oppressive system. I’ll say, it was WEIRD, but it did provide me with an interesting perspective and sense of humour. So I’ll say, that as a whole serves as the general inspiration for the show.

More specifically, though, there was a particular story, an absurdly funny event at a funeral in my native Moldova involving a funeral cryer and a coffin, which ignited something in me, inspired the show and served as a reminder that we live in a constantly paradoxical space where tragedy and comedy collide.

You took Pickled Republic on tour last year – what was that like and how did audiences react to the show?

Thanks to Creative Scotland’s Touring Fund, I was able to take the show on tour across Scotland with an incredible team of artists last autumn. It’s fair to say it was a highlight of my career to date. This show has been brewing in my head for many years, and having the opportunity to finally perform it, let alone tour it, was extremely fulfilling. The show is safely rooted in theatre of the absurd – it’s delightfully ridiculous, “surprisingly poignant” as some audience members have said and very visual, containing masks and an unbelievable visual design by Fergus Dunnet only complemented by Alberto Santos Bellido’s lighting design. So given all that, I was confident in the show’s strength, but I was also initially a tad worried, I’ll admit, that it would be too… outrageous for some audiences. Some venues were a bit nervous, as well.

But, do you know what – I was bowled over by the audiences’ reactions across the map – every single venue we visited received the show with such joy and delight. The absurdity of it all was an invitation for everyone to let go and have a ball with these pickled vegetables. The whole experience was complemented by the post show Pickle Party co-devised by myself and Geraldine Heaney. The Pickle Party being a chance for audiences to stay in the pickled world a bit more, take a photo as a gherkin, eat a pickle, drink a pickle cocktail, and write a love poem to a potato (if they felt silly enough). Everywhere we went on the tour, we left a trail of pickles and laughter and I can’t wait to do that again in Edinburgh at Manipulate Festival.

Pickled Republic plays Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh as part of Manipulate Festival on 9 February 2024

Learn more about Ruxy Cantir at