Updated: Oct 5
Every two years, there is a big happening. The city Charleville Mézières is turning into the Fairy Godmother of the marionettes. During the year, they sometimes wait too long in the wardrobe, suitcases, and cases, waiting impatiently for the moment they would breath the fresh air or the one, even better, on the stage of Charleville Mézières
Charleville opens its bewitched gate and lets them in one by one. Sometimes, when it is heavily showering ( we are still in the north), the city seems to be taken from the lyrics of Rimbaud, the famous poet who was born and raised in Charleville, and becomes "the drunk boat" - le bateau - as the title of one of his books.
I could have imagined all the puppeteers and their puppets leaning on the side panels of the ship and battling courageously with the stormy waves.
Charleville was the chosen home for marionettes. There is an artistic, -teasing flair in the air.
Even the name of a street like "petit bois" little wood resonated in my ears very theatrically.
That long nice street that joined la place Ducale was the one that was leading to the artist's village, where you could find a big square by the church, and daily street performances, the ticket office, and a bar in a a tent where you could gather with other artists, have a beer or glass of wine and share with your neighbor your experiences from what you just have seen.
I was delighted to find Charleville again after a long break of 4 years due to the Covid. It also felt that the audience missed a lot of the animated festival.
It is not that often that a city devotes itself to puppets. Every kind of hall or theater was a stage for the marionettes. It is simply fantastic. Every object theater lover knows that he has to be there.
La place Ducale
The main square - the heart of Charleville is Square Ducale
It is shaped like a rectangle, and around are all the restaurants and bars. Inside it were all day and evening, performances or puppets parade.
At noon time like other spectators. I watched the traditional glove puppets with the famous guignol who does all the mischief. Suddenly, the clock's arrows turned back in time, and we were all hooked, adults and children, to the magical little characters in front of the black scene.
But the puppets are not laying on static ground. They are moving with us, with the flow of life, with the dramatic changes they transit. It preoccupies the puppeteers who need to share their point of view on modern crises and what the world has become post-COVID.
So, however happy we are to find the classic marionette theater, the creators bring an innovative way to look at the concept of "puppet" and their visions, according to the time we live in.
There were many plays and various choices.
Although I was four days from a one-week festival and managed to see quite a few, they left strong impressions.
The content was not always light and joyful. Sometimes, I felt we walked with the actors on the "dark side of the moon."
The play Manual from Coriolisteatro - a company of Uruguay.
It was a good and strong start of my festival.
It was an object theater. It has reminded me of the Tcheque "black theater." You can see the light objects in the darkness. It was a playful, imaginative trip to the world of hands and what three pairs can do. Were they being a monkey picking up the mobile phone, or a scull? Suddenly, the hands became a bunch of old creatures. It left a lot of place for personal interpretation. The virtuoso manipulation of hands with perfect music coordination was just pure refinement. It was an adventure that you didn't know what to expect next. It was suspense mixed with pleasure all along.
And if we are on the South American emotional vision.
Chemin des Metaphors " The path of Metaphors" of the company Singediesel, with the actor Juan Perez, created a philosophical journey in the forest. It was told and acted by Juan, who led us to a fairy tale, classical yet with many unexpected twists.
It was a beautiful set design. The puppets were navigating in a surreal night experience where everything could happen. And the passenger- The hero, studies about life and its lessons through the way in the woods, while meeting mysterious creatures who will teach him how to look about things, metaphorically. He will step out of the forest a different person, and yes he will become younger!
Juan is a gifted puppeteer and a great storyteller, and he enchanted the public- adults and children with this poetic and subtle tale.
"Amatia" from the French company "Blick Theater" was a rather daring and esthetic approach to how to deal with the education system's dilemmas nowadays. The characters were like sculptures breaking from a collapsing wall. It was interesting to watch the actors molded into statues and the suffocating environment they were dealing with. It wasn't the classical marionette theater but a modern one, where the actors themselves look like sometimes as puppets moving in the space.
There were two South Korean companies that I had as the French saying "coup de coeur" from the Thebefu Theater- "A tree and a boy" -it was a picturesque portrait of the Korean landscapes and tradition through a story of love and loyalty between a boy and a tree, through the seasons and also the ones of life, from birth till the death-a talented pianist accompanied the beautiful puppets story. It was acted and presented so delicately and beautifully.
How do you know a theater is good? When you don't want it to end. The second company from South Korea who performed the play " Fence"- The Baek.'s factory, was excellent
There was mime, music, and a "situation play." In modern life, people are addicted to mobiles, and there is less and less honest communication between them. This side effect of mobile addiction society, was presented through a story of a couple whose daughter celebrates her birthday.
When the play ended, I was surprised as if it should have lasted much longer. I was diving into the familiar world, the phones' mania, the actor's way of interpretation was original and poignant.
In the theater the Forum, there was an exhibition of various Koreans hand made traditional Marionnettes, it gave another perspective to their universe and their culture.
Marionnettes and coffee-Plume and Bulle
I discovered this time "Plume and Bulle," A charming restaurant and a cozy café in a library with a lovely courtyard. Not only could you have eaten a tasty lunch at moderate prices and have a quality coffee in a French press (exactly as I like)
It also has hidden stairs leading to an intimate room where other performances occur.
It is the "off festival," the fringe, and for these shows, you pay in the old tradition, leaving how much you think you should, in a hat. I watched a lovely performance on the Baba Yaga- the witch.
I often came to Plume and Bulle during the festival. The staff were so friendly and caring. It was fun also to have a coffee and a dessert and chat with the people sitting by your table about the next performance you were about to watch.
One of the things I loved to do in Charleville was to walk on the path leading to the museum Rimbaud, the yellow brick house, and then to cross the bridge that led to the other river bank.
The scenery of the river Meuse in the late afternoon was breathtaking; nature was still green and radiant despite the climax changing, global warming, and other troubles that the puppets were very much concerned of, and tried to warn us the spectators, from a risky and doubtful future.
Staring at this serein landscape, was a confronting feeling. From afar I could hear a cheerful music from some puppets performance.
A closure to Charleville in Theatre de l'Odéon in Paris.
10 day later, i was going to the festival of automn in Odeon theater which takes place, every year in September. We watched the amazing theater play with wonderful cast -Confessions and yesterday we returned to watch the legend- Patti Smith in a literature and music evening. She was reading, and singing poems and texts from her last book translated in French accompanied by photos. Her son and daughter were two members of the musicians band.
The singer confessed about her admiration to French poets as Rimbaud, Verlaine and Jean Jennet but especially her deep connection to Rimbaud "l'enfant terrible" of French poetry" The rebellious poet from the 19th century, who wrote the masterpiece "a Season in Hell"
She was telling the audience about her need to go sometimes to Charleville to visit his grave. He was buried in the city, where he was born and raised.
She also had an exhibition of her photos in honour to Rimbaud in his museum.
It was a heart-warming closure to my unforgettable experience in the Marionnettes festival at Charleville.
Text by Niva Josef