Perilous Escapade

The Perils of Boris & Sergey: Perilous Escapade at Mimetic 2013

Journeys, quests and sweaty puppets were brought to life by Flabbergast Theatre’s Perilous Escapade about two leathery characters, Boris and Sergey, who enter as the “Dynamic Duo” and sadly part in the end. At Mimetic 2013.

Journeying was very much on my mind as I made my way to Enfield to view Perilous Escapade in the Mimetic Festival at the Dugdale Centre. The challenge of the quest structure is hard to resist dramatically, and the writers of Flabbergast Theatre’s puppet play spectacularly squeezed every metaphor and physical allusion out of the form as they move their two leathery characters, Boris and Sergey, from “Dynamic Duo” type entrance to their sad final parting.

At the same time, the play also discards the form in the style of a satirical meta-movie about two characters on their way to nowhere. I could swear that the Muppet movies had something to do with the shenanigans on stage, but then again it could have been Kill Bill or even The Princess Bride. Allusions come thick and fast in the ninety minute show: BatmanStar Wars, James Bond, the Greek myth of Charon and the River Styx, Dante’s Inferno… well, perhaps not Dante.

They mostly all work in this extravaganza of two brothers, one good & one bad, arriving before us from who-knows-where. In no time at all, and through a moment of childish play, the bad brother Sergey kills the good brother. From then on, the dead brother, who neither knows or acts like he’s dead, is on his way to free his bad brother from, of all places, hell, where he is imprisoned for murdering him. To take this journey, he not only doesn’t believe he’s dead, but he also doesn’t believe his brother has murdered him.

I’ll admit that by this time in the play I became lost myself in the multiplicity of switches between real and fictional places in Boris and Sergey’s journey. Nonetheless, I was enjoying the considerable skill of the four puppeteers who worked the two characters: in fact, the whole sense of stagecraft was a wonder in itself. Steve Spencer and Dylan Tate both displayed a great vocal range in characterising Boris and Sergey, respectively. They have huge presence, though I felt that there’s still room to improve their timing of working with an audience rather than just at them. The two silent “legs” puppeteers, Elaine Hartley and Samantha Arends, were focused and exact. I found remarks to them of “bitches” by Sergey a bit gratuitous: I mean, if there’s to be in-fighting between puppet and puppeteer then it needed to be carried through completely with the “legs” responding in some way to the abuse. The remarks seemed pointless, in the wrong sense.

However, with metatheatrical allusions coming thick and fast, I was swept along by the company’s manipulation of the gritty puppet personae, the stage blocks and the dramatic use of soundtrack and lighting. The show seemed, in so many ways, to be a perfect constructivist’s heaven, with the sole purpose of being an end unto itself. The action scenes were terrific, with every tiny movement choreographed to perfection. I can vouch for the truth in the company’s 2010 manifesto that “Flabbergast was set up to make uncompromising and exciting physical theatre in a belief that all theatre should be engaging and sweaty.”

Yet with all of the technical knowledge on display, I yearned for more understanding of storymaking in particular. It was jarring for me to see such a potentially insightful theme as the journey to hell treated in such a flippant way. I just didn’t believe that it was a perilous escapade at all. The idea of danger, risk – indeed, of losing your soul – was continually sidetracked into a childlike fantasy of “let’s all pretend” and “we all know that this is just a puppet show”. I left the theatre wondering if the energetic puppeteers had really any idea of what they were playing with – for many the journey to hell and back is lived out daily.

Date reviewed: Saturday 27th July 2013