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A pair of diminutive Japanese-style bunraku puppets, Russian brothers Boris and Sergey made their debut last year in Flabbergast Theatre's 'Boris & Sergey's Vaudevillian Adventure', which achieved cult Fringe status thanks to the little leather dudes' sweet appearance, and the filth that flowed out of their mouths (or, more accurately, their puppeteers' mouths). This follow up reaches for more meaningful themes, however, and swaps bawdy back-and-forth for action and emotion.
The story doesn't just pick up from where 'A Vaudevillian Adventure' left off. It vaults Sergey – the bald, pompous one – and Boris – the hairy, loveable one – further into the future, from where they recap the already complicated plot.
Sergey has murdered Boris in a fit of a fratricidal rage, after which they both slip into the puppet netherworld. To escape, they depend upon their human lackeys (as they see their puppeteers) to transport them through the blissful amniotic nothingness of heaven, guide them across the deep, inky waters of the river Styx, and save them from the butterfly-infested S&M torture dungeons of hell. It's hard work, and there's no denying the skill of the puppeteers in making everything from comic pratfalls to high-octane chase sequences seem uncannily real.
The higher intention here is to tell a story of love, hate and forgiveness from a frank perspective, and the audience gets more than just 'Matrix'-style bullet-time puppet stunts – the duo enter a dark fairytale that reflects ominously on the real fabric of human beings.
It works because Flabbergast subvert expectations of 'Finding Nemo'-cuteness with black humour, imaginary gore and a very large amount of meta-theatrical self-reflexivity.
'Stop trying to turn my blood-curdling tale into a Disney film!' Sergey orders his brother when Boris's recollections become too soppy.
Still, there are moments when the artifice starts to collapse. The castanet-like butterflies don't really work, for example. And, as the pace ramps up towards the finale, the pounding music and endless shouting means a lot of the nuance is lost. When the show works, it's glorious. When it doesn't, it's just an earnest group of young people swearing like sailors over a dubstep soundtrack.
'Boris & Sergey II' is a leap forward for the company, and a further challenge to the puppet orthodoxy. But it also feels like a slight overstep.