'Boris & Sergey' - Flabbergast | Edinburgh 2012
It’s not the first time I’ve seen Boris & Sergey onstage. It’s about the fifth. The show has established a fan base of repeat viewers. I enjoyed this incarnation of the show just as much, if not more, than the first time I saw it performed as Puppet Poker Pit at Theatre Delicatessen in 2010. Extraordinary feats of team puppet manipulation, improvised dialogue and audience interaction that stokes the imagination keeps the performance fresh. Not to mention the enduring impact of the striking finale.
Boris & Sergey’s Vaudevillian Adventure celebrates the radical possibilities of puppetry as an art form - and invites a grown-up audience out for a rollicking ride. A sparse oval poker table serves as the entire set. Faceless bunraku-style tabletop puppets represent the two brothers. Sergey, the bullying elder brother, is built out of reddish leather, while Boris sports a belly covered in mangy rabbit fur. Simple design makes space for the puppeteers to suggest all sorts of scenarios.
Through miming the puppets’ interactions with invisible props, vehicles and settings, the puppeteers speed the audience through sequences that play out like a blockbuster film. Brotherly banter, cinematic music and excellent team puppetry invite the audience to visualise the settings.
The story reveals a dysfunctional but affectionate relationship between the two brothers, who work as a con team to scam audience members, and each other. Skits and raunchy humour engage the audience and give insight into the brothers’ connection. This also toys with audience perceptions by exploring the role of the puppeteers in relationship to the characters and their individual identities.
The development called “The One Plot Point”, establishing the story’s main antagonistic element, felt a bit too laboured in this version of the show. In earlier incarnations it seemed more casually introduced, making the final scene all the more shocking.
I felt curious about the parallels to Blind Summit’s show The Table, and wondered if the long-established company had been an influence. The bodies of Boris & Sergey are very similar in shape and operation to the character in The Table. The puppets’ direct interaction with the audience, simple tabletop set and demonstration of puppet mime all seem to correspond.
Flabbergast Theatre launches an original narrative from these roughly similar building blocks, entertaining with rude humour and outrageous action sequences, while diving into the twisted psychological relationship between the two brothers. The closing scenes drop us into the heart of human darkness.
The audience - having played along by imagining so many of the props and settings throughout the puppet mime - now seem implicated in the story’s unsettling conclusion. Are we just witnesses or are we participants? Puppet theatre invites audience members to project their own emotions and imagery onto the story and the Flabbergast puppeteers skilfully summon us into their show with extraordinary style.
Boris & Sergey's Vaudevillian Adventure