Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Boris & Sergey: Preposterous Improvisation Experiment

Flabbergast Theatre

Genre: Comedic, Improvised Theatre, Puppetry

Venue: Assembly George Square Theatre


Low Down

Flabergast Theatre are both master puppeteers and master improvisers. Boris and Sergey showcases their slick teamwork and combines both quick wit and emotional depth.


Boris and Sergey are two leather puppets. Tonight’s show is completely unscripted and will be created with the help of the audience. A team of six actors control the puppets – three for each character. The puppets are performing on a table, though not restricted to this playing area, and spend some time interacting with the audience. One audience member is assigned time-keeping duties, and midway through the show the rest of the audience are encouraged to provide props for the characters. As far as improv show set-ups go, it’s fairly simple for the audience, yet intricate for the performers.
With no subject matter in the show’s title, it really is an open book. While Sergey banters with the audience, Boris reads the newspaper nonchalantly. It is when Sergey returns to the table that the first story starts, influenced by a picture Sergey has spotted in the newspaper.
Three main story threads are acted out by Boris and Sergey, and the puppets compere the show between the action. For the performers, it’s a challenge to move between such realities, but one that they handle with seamless confidence. These puppeteers are seasoned improvisers, carrying an ability not only to move the story forward, but also to avoid the trap of self-indulgence that can poison even the most entertaining of improv shows. That’s not to say they weren’t challenging each other though. The audience cheered when Sergey challenged Boris to complete a 360 degree turn in mid-air while working for the circus, as the well-oiled team of puppeteers performed the manoeuvre with aplomb. Not a tangled leg in sight.
The material was intricate too. In one scene we saw the death of a character played out sensitively, the audience gripped in silence. It was moving, and credit goes to the performers for keeping the focus on the action during the death. Of course, when Boris and Sergey returned to the stage the mood was broken with wit, and further superb handling of the situation by the performers.
The venue was perfect for the show. Raked seating is important when watching puppetry, as it can be very easy to miss small details. I was sat at the back and had no such problem. A smaller venue would have seemed cramped and involved lots of seat shifting for clear sightlines, while a bigger venue risks losing the intimacy of the audience interaction.
The soundtrack and lighting was also improvised. Sergey made comments about the tech person not being sure how to operate the iPad, and jokes were made at her expense when music did not start in time. Though funny, I suspect there was an element of truth in this, because the sound was the least impressive part of the performance. There were some highs – like when the Beatles’ ‘Ýesterday’ was played over the death scene – but otherwise the soundtrack felt like it was a couple of beats behind. The lighting however, provided mood consistent with the story, and thus the absence of sound effects or music didn’t affect the enjoyment of the show.
I always attend improv shows with a slight sense of trepidation. I fear that the road to self-indulgence is an easy one, and improvisers can become too caught up in technicalities that the story will suffer. None of that happened with Boris and Sergey, and I was completely engaged throughout the show.
Showcasing advanced skills in both improv and puppetry, and with an inherent respect for the audience built in, I have no hesitation in highly recommending Boris and Sergey.