As ever, I was looking forward to whatever freaky piece of theatre might come out of Flabbergast Theatre’s substantial imagination – and this year’s show did not disappoint. Fresh from 2013’s well-received Vaudevillian Adventure, everyone’s favourite cute and rude Balkan puppets Boris & Sergey are back, with a show that treads a fine line between art, offensiveness and mayhem. This time round Flabbergast are playing up their dark Victorian aesthetic even further and presenting a freak show of puppets, with additional freaks provided by members of the audience. You have been warned.
A new and entirely appropriate dungeon-like venue in the Underbelly helps the atmosphere from the start, and provides a suitable edge to all the fun and laughter – as do all the meat hooks and chains. After messing around a bit they begin to introduce their freaks, the first of whom, need you ask, is a violent dancing pygmy man puppet. Next we meet his friend and a few others follow suit; it’s not giving much away to say that things start to go wrong from there.
Aside from the freaks, the show includes the brilliantly improvised ‘Super Spooky Story Time’, which ended up being not so much spooky as incredibly surreal thanks to an unusual combination of audience suggestions and tarot cards. The results were very entertaining. In fact, it has to be said that the funniest parts were the improvised bits of the show and the audience interaction, rather than the scripted sections.
At times it was hard to see what was going on due to the flat level of the audience’s seats; that’s the downside of having such a quirky setting, so my advice would be to sit as near to the front as you dare. And then of course there’s the tone. It’s always playful, but the jokes and language are really not designed for sensitive souls.
So if you like a show where you’ll be frequently worrying about what’s about to happen next, then Boris & Sergey are the foul-mouthed puppets for you. Meanwhile, beneath the bawdiness, it’s easy to forget that much of the puppetry is genuinely beautifully performed. The bearded lady is a nice touch too.