Saturday, April 27, 2013

Last Sunday # 2 - Puppets, and Princeling in love

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,

initially because she reminded me of Maggie Smith, but the more I look at her the more I see she isn't quite like.  Her maker says of her - like many of the pieces she has her own page on the site with a remark about her character - this woman hides a heavy secret. 

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?'
'Yes. Gladys.'
'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.


Crafty Green Poet said...

I love puppetry, and the whole idea of subverting the form with visible puppeteers etc.

Zhoen said...

Sounds like exactly the sort of performance I would love.

Julia said...


But your anecdote reminds me of the time when my infant son thought that he would marry me, Snow White, Codie from Neighbours and the little girl across the road. Why do they have to grow up?

Ellena said...

Wow, Mortelune not only hides the secret but she seems to see IT happening again and the weight of it is showing in her eyes (I think).

Dick said...

The puppet festival sounds wonderful. Whilst still a Drama teacher and putting on regular productions, I always wanted to do a show with life-size puppets controlled by and interacting with actors.

Rouchswalwe said...

I am reminded of the 2004 film, Strings. Weirdly interesting.

Puppets - they are for adults in Japan, too. A Bunraku performance, which I unfortunately never was able to attend, is said to be amazing. The puppeteers are normally clothed in black, but are said to be integral to the action. Thank you for telling us of this festival, sweet Lucy!

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

A fascinating post, Lucy, with links that really sent me on a profitable expedition. The puppet festival sounds magnificent. Thank you for sharing your day.

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

The puppet festival is one of the few really quite noteworthy cultural events round here that I'm interested enough and equipped with enough language to appreciate; I realise we're quite lucky to have it. I notice the nature of the performance seems to change with fashion rather; there was no theatre of object this year which seemed all the rage a couple of years ago when Iso did a course in it. There's always plenty of Guignol and other traditional stuff more oriented to children too. I've yet to catch a Guignol.

Julia - that's so sweet, I hope he finds someone nice in the end!

Ellena - the more I look at her the more struck I am by what you say. I almost feel I want to have her to live with me to try to shelter and sooth her anguish. In fact though, the one I think I could more happily live with wasn't illustrated on the website, but was actually exhibited there: a kind of ageing woman punk with wire-rimmed glasses and a friendly, wise expression, who looked like she could be a true friend. I imagine they're fearsomely expensive though.

Dick - the manipulation is no easy thing, I think, though with 'Accident' it wasn't as important or convincing as the second performance, the figures were more like cyphers for the characters. It's a fascinating area, I think.

R - I didn't know about Bunraku, it sounds as if some of this puppetry is influenced by it: the puppeteers in black with black gloves, who are like shadows of the puppets, though here they sometimes came forward more. Perhaps there's something on Youtube about it...

Clive - so glad you saw this and found some useful links, I did think of you and your puppets.

Marly Youmans said...

What a delicious outing. I never mind not understanding things so long as there is a something to not understand, if that makes sense...

Favorite child conversation from yesterday:
Child, age 2: boat.
My daughter: that's a spaceship, isn't it?
Child: boat.
Daughter: Spaceship?
Child: Space , , , boat.