As they may or may not say in the music halls, “Everybody loves puppets!” and apparently, as has been exceedingly demonstrated in recent years by the likes of Avenue Q, Henson Alternative’s Puppet Up!, the dirtier the better. Truly, there is a peculiar and undeniable appeal in witnessing an otherwise inanimate object channelling the darkest taboos of the human psyche and spewing them forth upon a ‘polite’ theatre going audience.
Flabbergast Theatre. and their two such foot-high, stuffed-and-stitched deviants, contribute to this trope beautifully,as they take over The Butterfly Club with Boris and Sergey’s Vaudevillian Adventure as part of the 2015 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Boris and Sergey, the bad boys of the Balkans, Vaudevillian mavericks, and confidence tricksters extraordinaire, present for your devious delectation a litany of lawless lewdness, an evening of erogenous entertainments, salacious spectacle and other assorted acts of awful alliteration.
The show is structured like a good old-fashioned variety show, featuring a line-up of familiarly-styled acts – death-defying recitations of Shakespearean classics, interpretive dance pieces in not-so-convincing drag, fireworks (or at least a multitude of very small explosions), appallingly hammy jokes, and the obligatory element of audience participation (or molestation, as the case may be).
Things really get sinister when Sergey, strapped for cash, foolishly bets his soul in a poker game in the infamous ‘Puppet Poker Pit’ and summons the Dark Ones, ethereal wraith-like figures who give chase to the unwitting duo, with the hope of claiming Sergey for the ‘other side’.
The show couples bawdy late-night cabaret lewdness with a surreal imagination that allows the puppets to shift from a balancing act atop an invisible bicycle, to a beautifully poetic silent flashback depicting the pair’s foundling relationship as children, to their flight from the Dark Ones across land and sea in exceedingly elaborate and complicated modes of transportation. Watching six people and two puppets do a synchronised loop-the-loop in convincingly realised mime biplanes is really something to behold.
The technical mastery of the puppeteers of Flabbergast Theatre is astounding. Each 30 cm tall Bunraku puppet requires the expert attention of six hands, and, coupled with an intuitive ensemble cohesion that allows for moments of seamlessly dexterous improvisation and audience interaction, the effect is captivating.
Unfortunately, the structure of the show is a little clunky, shifting from the initial itemised sequence of variety acts to the late emergence of a plot-based climax with jarring spontaneity. As the show builds to its crescendo, the fate of these leather figurines that we have come to invest so much in is sadly upstaged by the arrival of the far less-impressive Dark Ones. The excessive amount of stage time they are given feels unwarranted and the climax is sadly the weakest point in the show, following the astounding antics of our heroes.
Despite this, Boris and Sergey’s Vaudevillian Adventure is still a delightfully filthy, fast-paced surrealist romp across time, space, and several moral boundaries, that is sure to tickle the sweet spot of even the most prudish theatre goer.