Advanced Low Petrushka Puppet Show

This episode introduces Moscow puppet theatre "Vagrant Booth." The puppeteers Alexander Gref and Elena Slonymskaya reconstructed traditional Russian puppet performance with Petrushka character. In this episode you are watching a few routines where Petrushka is treated by a doctor, learning a soldier’s service, training a dog, and a scene with his bride. While watching the episode, pay attention to the organ-grinder who has become not only Petrushka’s conversational partner to keep the conversation flowing, but also his interpreter to repeat Petrushka’s phrases, since the whistled speech is not distinct and not easy to understand. If Petrushka’s speech appears to be incomprehensible for you, just relax and enjoy a traditional cultural experience of Russia.

Petrushka is the most prominent marionette or a hand puppet character of Russian folk puppetry (rayok). Long-nosed, dressed in a brightly colored robe and an eccentric pointy red hat with a tuft, he is perpetually surprised, easily duped but quickly to extricate himself from a trouble. The Russian word ‘петрушка’ means ‘parsley’, though the name Petrushka is used as a nickname for Pyotr. Scarce reminiscences of the first puppet shows at the 18th century tells that Empress Anna Ioannovna’s court jester Pietro-Mira Pedrillo from Italy served as a prototype for Petrushka. Oral tradition also has saved for us Petrushka's full name -- Pyotr Ivanovich Uksusov (Russian word 'уксус' means 'vinegar') or yet another nickname -- Van’ka Ratatui. In Italian culture a similar character is called Pulcinella, his British counterpart is named Punch, and there is a popular puppet character Guignol in France .

As you may notice, what distinguishes Petrushka from other puppets is his voice. As soon as a show begins, you will soon realize that Petrushka’s voice is created by means of special whistle (‘пищик' in Russian is derived from the verb ‘пищать’ meaning ‘to cheep’). Petrushka actor is supposed to change the voice from ‘pishchik to ‘live’ voice of other character in the wink of an eye. This technique demands high mastery and long training. Petrushka character is often considered foolish for displaying inappropriately vulgar, or ridiculous behavior, but nevertheless is a source of amusement. Telling riddles also becomes a part of entertainment. His characteristic idioms, reflected the metric structure of Russina folk verse, frequently suggest foolish slapstick humor, though his perceptiveness and wit show that he is far from being an idiot. Notably Petrushka is wise enough to play the fool and takes advantage of his role to mock and speak freely to dispense frank observations. Although often thought of as children's entertainment, Petrushka's sharp wit and linguistic verve have always been appreciated by adults as well. Typically popular Petrushka’s shows are performed in art festivals, Shrovetide Fairs, and city courtyards.

Like in the traditional puppetry the contemporary show includes music performed on the hurdy gurdy. The show booth of the puppeteer is a traditional one -- overhead, three-tiered, cloth covered, fastened with staples. It is put right on the ground and one puppeteer hid himself behind it, while another one is standing in front of the booth and addresses the viewers, plays a barrel organ and collects money from the viewers. Contemporary puppeteers while being faithful to the tradition, improvise references to the news of the day and of the region where they are performing. What remains unchangeable is Petrushka’s poverty, but more importantly his humor and his sense of justice.