Boris and Sergey are a pair of foot-high face-less leather bunraku-style puppets with dubious morals; a couple of bickering Balkan tricksters, one the bastard-son-of-a-basket-ball, the other a kind of fuzzy-bellied mutant muppet baby, who perform a furious hour-long set on top of a green baize table.
Whereas Blind Summit’s recent exercise in table-top puppetry had an appealing simplicity and a mildly existential air, this show by Flabbergast Theatre is an altogether wilder and more raucous proposition. What begins as a familiar albeit puppet-centric late-night Fringe show, complete with plenty of dick jokes and a participatory puppet poker session, grows more and more ambitious by the minute: there are flashbacks, an action sequence, a Kate Bush number, a brief body swap episode and one of the most dizzyingly inventive endings of any show I’ve seen this year.
For as well as being wickedly funny it’s also an exquisite piece of six person puppetry. Each character takes three people to operate and the performers are required to work in perfect harmony, even matching their breathing to that of their fellow puppeteers. While the audience are always aware of their presence, hovering over their puppet charges like black-clad watchful gods, the two brothers also exist as characters in their own right. They have a brilliantly convincing rapport, affectionate yet volatile, one wearily tolerant of the other’s stupidity.
What makes it even more impressive is the level of improvisation that, by necessity is folded into the act. The company were fortunate on this occasion, picking two guys for the poker sequence who were sober enough to carry out instructions (unlike the woman sitting beside me, whose frequent boisterous whoops and interjection had very little bearing on what was happening on stage) and also delivered their given lines in honeyed Louisiana accents. But it’s fairly clear that the puppeteers are capable of dealing with any heckles and other late night Fringe randomness that might be hurled their way without breaking their flow. While they made it look seamless, it’s clearly a hugely physically demanding task, with one performer per puppet required to crouch on the floor at all times and the lead performers’ sweat raining down onto the green of the table top.
Eventually it all gets a bit meta as the puppets start to spar with their limb-wranglers – Boris learning the hard way that calling the person who controls your arms a cunt is a sure-fire road to puppet paralysis. It would be fair to say the action sequences while inventive are probably overlong and that, as the puppets themselves point out, there’s only one plot point to speak of, but this all pales beside their wonderfully Faustian finish, Drag Me to Hell with a commedia dell’arte flourish, the dark night rising up to claim their souls.