Boris and Sergey are one of the top comedy double acts of the festival. They’re a classic combination: Sergey the older, smarter, scheming brother; Boris the younger, hot-headed, and eager one.

The Balkan pair swagger around stage, attempt to scam audience members, and make crude jokes about intoxicants and prostitutes. Of course, what is particularly impressive about their act is that they are both roughly two-foot-high, made largely of wood and leather, and are each controlled and voiced entirely by three exceptionally talented members of the fringe-famous Flabbergast Theatre company. Bunraku puppetry has never been so glamorous…

The story of the show follows the two brothers in a sometimes-incoherent tale of rags and riches: furious at Boris for borrowing from a violent loan shark and failing to win a rigged game show, Sergey sets out alone to perform his pretentious one man show. But whist he is critically slammed, financially ruined, and evicted from his house, Boris finds inexplicable Hollywood fame and fortune. All of this is told in a mish-mash of styles, interspersing semi-improvised comedy and audience interactions with closely choreographed story-driven sequences.

hilarious, witty, and, on a couple of startling occasions, even moving

It’s these scripted sections where the production shines. Despite a cramped space, the 6 actors seem capable of practically anything, weaving in and out of each other and seamlessly swapping between puppets. A fight between the brothers stands out as one of the most remarkable pieces of technical puppetry there is to witness at the festival, with the two puppets fencing and brawling, darting around the space and clambering over the actors themselves.

That’s not to say that these sections are merely technical showcases – they’re hilarious, witty, and, on a couple of startling occasions, even moving. I found myself repeatedly taken aback at the variety and complexity of emotions that the company could evoke with the subtlest of movements of an expressionless, leather-faced bunraku puppet. It’s heart-breaking to see a downtrodden and destitute Sergey meander down an empty street, illuminated only by the headlights of passing cars, but rather than dwell and become maudlin, the script quickly juxtaposes this striking image with some of the funniest jokes of the show.

Indeed, the humour was generally stronger when it was clearly scripted, as some of the improvised jokes and audience interaction fell flat. This was rare, and very forgivable; for the most part, total conviction and focus on the puppets meant that even when the play lagged in places, the audience never felt unengaged.

you’d be a fool to miss them work their magic yet again

The puppets’ strong rapport with the audience also helped here. With the concept of the ‘fourth wall’ thrown rapidly out the window in the first few minutes of the performance, the characters are freed up to cover for mistakes and make jokes at their own expense. This is taken as far as to acknowledge the existence of the puppeteers themselves, a device used in equal measure for comic effect and narrative progression: a masterful climactic scene sees the six puppeteers attempt to control three puppets simultaneously, being forced to swap between them at the point of a small, puppet gun. In the hands of a lesser company, this could be a simple gimmick. In the hands of Flabbergast Theatre, it is both a hilarious gag and a finely woven plot point.

There’s no doubt that with their boisterous humour and hit-and-miss gags, Boris and Sergey aren’t for everyone. However, seeing them is absolutely a risk worth taking. Flabbergast are masters of their particular niche – you’d be a fool to miss them work their magic yet again.

Matthew Neubauer

4/5

Boris and Sergey’s One Man Extravaganza is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, more information and tickets here.

Image: Boris and Sergey

Theatre Editor
Matt has just finished four years of mathematics at University College London, and is now taking the logical next step of pursuing a career in theatre. As well as an avid critic, he is a passionate director and producer, with credits including Protest Song at the Camden People's Theatre and Rhinoceros at The Shaw.

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