Specialists in bawdy Bunraku puppetry, Flabbergast Theatre have taken their big hit show from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, dusted it down and tarted it up for Christmas – and a rather odd festive treat it makes.
Boris and Sergey, two leathery puppets who stand about 18 inches high, are the stars of the show and, telling from their gravel in their accents, hail from somewhere in the west Balkans. Voiced by Dylan Tate and Stephen Spencer the puppets – who are controlled by three puppeteers apiece – attempt to put on a vaudeville show which features various musical, comedy and speciality acts, while also trying to scam some members of the audience in a poker game that forms the centre-piece of the evening.
There’s also some Christmas stuff, a bit off time travelling, a bullet-time fight sequence and a high-speed chase on skidoos. It is, structurally speaking, a mess, but then I suppose that’s rather the point – more on that in a bit.
The puppetry, however, is remarkable. The cast, despite having to scramble all over one other to get hands on Boris or Sergey’s arms and legs, work in perfect harmony, and work so succinctly and with such well-observed nuance that these faceless leather mannequins genuinely seem to come alive on stage. It might not be War Horse, but it is undoubtedly impressive and absorbing. It is also properly funny.
The language is way too blue for school, but the effect of having six adults huddled around these little puppets, speaking their voices and making their own sound effects, gives the show an atmosphere of children-at-play, something the madcap structure compliments perfectly.
Though this may be what the show’s writers are going for, it does carry with it its own problems. The erratic structure means some skits and bits slow to a comparatively sluggish pace, while other sections spiral off into childish abandon. The tone is also a little uneven and, though the language often gets pretty fruity, the content is a little mild for something declaring itself ‘discerningly twisted’.
That said, Boris and Sergey’s Vaudeville whatever-it-is is an undoubtedly strong addition to the Christmas schedules this year. It’s funny, vividly executed and highly-imaginative, and though it might be largely ripped off from their earlier show, it is an amusing, bizarre and frequently hilarious way to spend 45 minutes.
Read the Exeunt Q&A with Flabbergast’s Henry Maynard.