‘The Manual Oracle’ is a theatre project created by director/writer/designer Phoebe von Held.

Phoebe’s previous work includes: Rameau’s Nephew, adapted, co-translated, directed and designed for the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow (1998); The Nun, adapted, co-translated, directed and designed for the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow (2003); D’Alembert’s Dialogues, an animation based on Diderot’s D’Alembert’s Dream, a dialogue between eighteenth-century materialist philosophy and today’s biomedical sciences (2005); Chrysalis, an animation commissioned by ArtAkt for Crossing-Over: Exchanges in Art and Biotechnologies; shown at the Royal Institution (2008).

An ongoing interest in Phoebe’s work is the investigation of different manifestations of alienation characterising our postmodern condition. By using enigmatic historical texts as a starting point and projecting their resonances on to contemporary contexts, she seeks to probe into the conditions that determine today’s life politically, psychologically and sociologically. Phoebe’s practice includes writing, design and directing and her work is always collaborative, inviting other writers, co-translators, co-researchers from the arts and other professional or social groups to participate in devising new and innovative work.

Phoebe is also a researcher in theatre aesthetics and cultural studies, and in 2011 published the book ‘Alienation and Theatricality: Diderot after Brecht’, Oxford: Legenda. She is a Visiting Artist at the Institute of Psychiatry, KCL, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Department of English & Humanities (Theatre Studies), Birkbeck University of London.

Previous work

Chrysalis (2008): Rotoscoped animation directed by Phoebe von Held, in collaboration with internationally award-winning animator Joseph Pierce (animation). With Candida Benson as Mlle de Lespinasse. Produced for Crossing-Over: Encounters between Art & Biotechnology, an exhibition curated by ArtAkt at the Royal Institution in 2008. Inspired by an excerpt from Diderot’s D’Alemberts Dream.
“Von Held captures Diderot’s playful as well as critically sharp mixing of discourses, registers and voices, and reframes it within the current context of genetic experimentation, bringing the past to foreshadow ideas about the future…” (Catalogue essay by Caterina Albano)


D’Alembert’s Dialogues (2005): An animation directed by Phoebe von Held and animated by Juan Fontanive. A conversation between scientists from the National Institute of Medical Research, London, and Mlle de Lespinasse (Candida Benson) who is a character from Diderot’s D’Alembert’s Dream. The film explores the double-echoes between eighteenth-century materialist philosophy and 21st century biomedical science. It was produced as part of a sciart experimentation award, funded by the Wellcome Trust, developing an adaptation script and concept of Diderot’s D’Alembert’s Dream as an animation feature.
The Nun (2003)
Adapted, directed and designed for the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow; based on Diderot’s La Religieuse, co-translated with Caroline Warman & Finn Fordham.

Do you want to take the veil… No Madame… you don’t have any desire for the religious life?… No, Madame… You will not obey your parents?… No Madame… What do you want to be then?… Anything, but a nun… I do not want to be one and I never shall.

THE GUARDIAN: “tremendously acted, intelligently designed, another maverick Citizens’ triumph.
THE HERALD: “an eye-popping piece of charmingly sensual subversion.
THE SCOTSMAN: “one of the sharpest, funniest shows I’ve seen about the dilemmas of enlightenment politics, and the weakness of a species whose grand ideas about liberation so often become confused with the simple urge to take liberties.”
EDINGBURGHGUIDE.COM: “a silk glove stitched inside with sharp diamonds.”

Rameau’s Nephew (1998)
Adapted, directed and designed for the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow; based on Diderot’s Le Neveu de Rameau, co-translated with Nina Pearlman.

RameauXThe Scotsman 
‘the production has three terrific assets. First, its crazy style has real intellectual flair, capturing the end-of-civilisation decadence and flight to extremes that is at the heart of the work. Second, it’s intriguing to recognize, 240 years on, the sheer familiarity of the nephew’s harsh Eighties-style greed, in all its self-deceptions and insidious sadism… I can’t remember ever seeing a gender-bending performance that transcended the issue of gender so completely; if only by reaching a level of humanity that runs deeper even than sex.’