Review: Boris & Sergey’s Vaudevillian Adventure, Norwich Puppet Theatre

Flabbergast Theatre Boris & Sergey Vaudevillian Adventure. Photo: Claudine Quinn/Norwich Puppet Thea

Flabbergast Theatre Boris & Sergey Vaudevillian Adventure. Photo: Claudine Quinn/Norwich Puppet Theatre - Credit: Claudine Quinn/

Eve Stebbing enjoys an imaginative, if flawed, anarchic take on Hamlet at Norwich Puppet Theatre.

Everywhere I look at the moment, there's another version of Hamlet. If it's not McMafia on prime-time Sunday night television, it's scary contemporary opera at Glyndebourne or fringe-style anarchic comedy with puppets.

Boris and Sergey is the latter, although thankfully they do not actually offer us what they describe as the traditional fringe tipple - battery acid masquerading as Pinot Grigio.

I should have realised just by looking at the set that the forces of darkness were about to envelop me once again. A series of white and red tabards striped the backdrop, with ominous-looking meat hooks hanging in front of them.

But at the outset, I was hoping for something rather jollier. Or, at least, perhaps something more Japanese. Flabbergast Theatre are expert in an interesting form of puppetry called bunraku, in which several people operate the same figure and a narrator stands off-stage to tell us the story.

The company does stick to the basics of the traditional style. There is, however, no off-stage narrator. The dialogue is delivered by the two puppeteers who get to swivel the heads. This struck me as an unfairly hierarchical arrangement, and, in suitably comic and absurdist vein, I found myself wanting to hear more from the feet.

Hints of Doctor Faustus and the Brothers Karamazov added to the general mood of doom, but the quick-witted improvisation kept the audience in stitches. This was black humour at its most unbound.

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It is delightful to watch the clever team manipulate their human-shaped rugby balls about the stage, but they perhaps underestimate how willingly the audience buys into the reality of the characters they conjure. The series of deftly-engineered sketches aspires to a bit of metaphysical depth, but then seems unwilling to really own up to it.

Flaws and all, the show does make a great party, and it is easy to see how it has captured the imagination of audiences up and down the country.

The Manipulate Festival at the puppet theatre continues with its challenging and exciting programme of work until February 9. Don't miss out.

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