Amoros et Augustin, Le Senor Z

Review in Issue 4-1 | Spring 1992

The prospect of travelling to a puppet show at Battersea Arts Centre, for the uninitiated (like myself) felt somewhat masochistic. A long day’s journey into Sooty?

On arrival, the situation improves with an invitation to meet Lady Penelope, resplendent in sparkly gown. Alas wrong day. The auditorium is packed, polite and nondescript looking, but not an ankle biter in sight. Mercifully all pre-conceptions end here.

The set reveals a large paper-like screen illuminated by flickering lights placed front and behind. Clearly visible either side are two of the performers, one operating synth-keyboard, the other festooned with percussion and sound effect devices complete with gravel under foot.

Lights down, flamenco guitar, enter wailing trumpets, a surging concoction builds complete with whistling and chanting. We are in Samurai/Spaghetti Western country. Furious galloping precedes the image of our champion – Zorro, bat-cape swirling in the wind, pursued by bandito nasties. Black stroboscopic images rush at you in three dimensional form. Titles are lashed in, with a comic book’s style and detail. All action is structured in cinematic story board sequence. Long shot – sleepy, church bell village; mid shot – ragged, pitiful local; close up – eyeballs dilating, the sound of chains, clink of swords; point of view short – approaching shadows of bad news…

Much of the humour comes from the manic D.I.Y. silent movie style. At one point a strip of clear film is projected onto the screen. We now see two characters: Zorro versus ‘Sancho Panza’ consciously acting within the constraint of each frame. An acrobatic swashbuckling manoeuvre is beyond the fat villain, he trips and falls off the frame. The action is stopped, Zorro helps him back, a brief chat – fighting continues.

Only at one point does the production flounder. The surreal ‘tea break’ gag is repeated. A prolonged fight scene becomes progressively more abstract (characters walking on the ceiling, etc). Emphasising a quality already apparent, it became distracting and tedious. This was quickly remedied with the climatic show-down.

The chief villain (eye patch, sweaty quiff, spiked beard) and henchman ride into town for the regular spot of rape, pillage and poll tax. The front screen is raised revealing three smaller scenes staggered at various distances, each representing the same location from a long shot to close-up. It’s fiesta time at Bar Sol: frantic maracas, gringo guzzlers, loud vocal/physical traffic, the door creaks – silence – two swords clash. Eyeball to eyeball, Zorro’s identity causes amazement. Clink clank – cutlery on overdrive. The final apocalyptic battle. The masked defender rides again, till next Sat morning.

The term ‘shadow theatre’ is misleading and a disservice for this production. It evokes images of crude silhouettes lacking detail and mobility. Amoros et Augustin create a dynamic that works as a pastiche of the film genre while also creating a very surreal identity. This is a funky show, imaginative and performed with zest. A skilful ensemble, essentially fun rather than pretentious. A welcome reminder that puppetry can be anything that is animated. RIP Sooty.

P.S. Don’t discriminate against the ankle biters.

Note: Amoros et Augustin are expected to return to Britain in the Spring of ‘93. The Puppet Centre are hoping to organise a workshop/ residency with the company. An opportunity not to be missed. For further detail contact Vision Mix Festival, The Puppet Centre, BAC Lavender Hill, London SW11 5TF.

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This article in the magazine

Issue 4-1
p. 12