Then in the afternoon, I set off, all alone, no dog, no husband (and also no camera, since I wanted to enjoy the company and the shows unencumbered) to meet Iso, who had also decamped, no Princeling, no husband, so that we could take in the sea air and a couple of puppet shows at the Marionnet'ic puppet festival in Binic. Turns out the festival has been going for fifteen years already, but we've only really been aware of it for the last couple; we couldn't make it last year but spent the day there two years ago, which I posted briefly about here.
While it may seem odd to leave one's small child at home to go and watch puppet shows, in fact they really were for grown-ups. The first was Crash de là, by the Belgian company, Les Royales Marionnettes (that page is in English), a gritty tale of social dysfunction, family crisis, adolescent angst and anger set against a background of industrial decay and blight in a small Belgian town. The manner of performance, the voices and movements, were abrasive, the puppets - which were more stiff mannequins, representations of the characters with fixed expressions and attitudes - deliberately ugly, and I struggled with it at first and didn't understand all of it, especially the songs which punctuated it (near-bilingual Iso said she didn't either so that made me feel better). Yet it wasn't without humour, and in the end I was quite moved by it; the story of an angry, unhappy and unpleasant boy who is saved by a friendship with a stubborn, curmudgeonly old man, a former resistance fighter, despite his lashing out at and hurting him too. As the story develops, by the end, the single performer has more and more assumed the role of the boy, so you wonder to what extent it is his own story. Whatever, it's a story.
The second was from Theatre des Alberts, based in the Île de Réunion, and was called Accidents - that link is to the page of their website about the show, including a short promotional video for it, which gives a general impression of the show. It was very good, though desperately sad, bitter and savage in places, as the write-up says, 'cruel as life but also as funny'. And it was very funny, even for someone like me, who usually just see the black in black humour and not much of the humour.
These shows, like much puppetry now, don't involve classic string or hand puppets, but figures which are manipulated by visible operators who are also narrators and at times participants in the narrative, continually stretching, fracturing and generally subverting the relationship between puppet, puppeteer and audience. Interesting stuff.
There was also an exhibition, a number of actual pieces and many more photos, by a maker of more traditional string puppets, made by Nadine Delannoy who calls her company Âmes Imaginaires, 'Imaginary Souls'. The link is to the gallery page of her website, and I do recommend having a good look around there - the English translation is unusually good and her story and ideas are quite fascinating. I think (as in I'm not absolutely sure, rather than 'in my opinion') her work is beautiful, though not always comfortable, but there is something truly alive about much of it. Of the making of her 'souls' (they aren't all puppets though many are) she describes how she always begins with the head, and
every new head is inspired by a mix of several emotions. The ambiguous expression that results from this mix produces the impression of true presence in the character.
I was particularly drawn to Mortelune,
I also liked Jean-Baptiste:
I've long had an affection for Molière, albeit one based on pretty scant acquaintance. With this figure, as with many of them, as Iso remarked, much life is conferred by the lightness and softness of the hair, which, again slightly uncomfortably, is often made from real fur or real or fake human hair for extensions and wigs.
Anyway, we had quite a bit of time for a long saunter by the waterside and along the harbour wall in Binic, drink a hot chocolate which wasn't very hot by the time we got it, and truly the World and Her Husband were out and about, sitting on the terraces of restaurants and cafés and bars and crêperies, getting ripped off at the funfair in the car park, watching the giant African dancing puppets that were ambulating about the town, and despite the really rather chilly wind, there was a queue for the ice cream parlour all the way down the street. As Joe said on his blog recently, people seem to be regarding the sun 'as though it were an extraordinary new phenomenon', so starved we've been of it.
We rather guiltily remarked that much as we loved the company of all our dear ones, and to do things with them, it was rather nice to be out on the loose for a few hours without having to worry about dogs in cars, or the boredom threshold and attention spans of small boys and husbands. It was nice to get news of Princeling though, and Iso told me that one day recently when she met him out of school, instead of erupting from the premises with his usual noise and boy-energy, he emerged rather quiet and pensive. After a little he asked her if she was in love with anyone (amoreux - often he still speaks French to her, especially when he's just been in a French speaking environment, though she resolutely speaks only English to him). Well, yes, she said, daddy... After a time, though, and a bit more hedging around the subject, she twigged that she was meant to ask him the question:
'Ilan, are you in love with someone?'
'How do you know?'
'She kissed me in the playground.'
'And is she nice?'
(perhaps a little hesitant) 'Yes.'
'Good. Because if she isn't nice to you, you don't have to be in love with her, and you can just say crotte to her and go away.'
Since then he has been somewhat preoccupied with the matter of being amoureux. He asked his mum if he could be in love with her, and she said well no, because she was his mum, though she loved him very much, but also because little people could only be in love with other little people and big people with other big people, which I thought was a lovely light-handed way of helping to explaining a delicate subject.
So we made our way home cheerful and well-aired. The evening had turned cold, Molly had been cross and fed-up that I'd driven out without her, but Tom had lit the fire when I got home, and we ate a late supper of sausage and beans to finish our exceptional Sunday.