Boris and Sergey’s Christmas Cabaret

Dec 13 2023 | By More

★★☆☆☆     Puppets unstrung

Assembly Roxy: Tue 12 – Thurs 21 Dec 2023.
Review by Tom Ralphs

Thirteen years on from their first production, the multi-talented Flabbergast Theatre are reviving their most successful and enduring creations, Balkan bad boys Boris and Sergey, for a show billed as their ‘very unique take on A Christmas Carol’ at Assembly Roxy.

With five star reviews for the previous four Boris and Sergey shows, and the promise of the return of some of Flabbergast’s other creations, Boris and Sergey’s Christmas Cabaret – created by Flabbergast’s Henry Maynard – ought to be a safe bet for an evening of original, anarchic, inspired devised theatre. Sadly, the finished product is considerably less than the sum of its constituent parts.

Boris and Sergey’s Christmas Cabaret. Promotional image: Henry Maynard

The Church setting of the central hall of Assembly Roxy seems perfect. It evokes a spirit of Victoriana and vaudeville with cabaret tables and a set that consists of a long table draped with a cloth bearing Boris and Sergey’s name, accompanied by suitably dim lighting.

Ahead of the official start of the show, six of the seven members of the ensemble move amongst the audience in the guise of Dickens characters, chatting, entertaining and flirting with the crowd. It adds to the sense of anticipation at first, but then starts to set alarm bells ringing as the repartee becomes limited and it feels like it has outstayed its welcome.

The feeling of limited material being stretched too thinly continues as Sergey, the first of the two faceless foot tall puppets, each operated by three people, emerges. Sergey announces what lies in stall for the audience over a song that continues for longer than the amount he has to say, before another song begins adding further to his awkwardness and irritation with Boris, who is in charge of the tape recorder and has got the play button stuck.

It should be amusing, but the dialogue feels tired and the feeling that the show is undercooked and underprepared continues to grow. Interchanges between the two puppets lack energy as weak jokes fail to work as ironic or disguise the lack of any coherent thread running through the first act.

abandoned in development

Much of the puppetry, with the notable exception of a choreographed trip into the audience to the accompaniment of Walking in the Air, also lacks any real spark of excitement or wow factor. References or connections to A Christmas Carol are minimal, suggesting an idea and framework that was not pursued or was abandoned in development.

The first half reaches a nadir when Boris is left alone on the stage and tries desperately to engage an audience with nothing other than a few words and a briefcase that he takes nothing of interest out of. The joke is maybe meant to be Boris’s social awkwardness, but it just feels like a lack of ideas played out beyond the point where it is merely embarrassing.

The second half is a considerable improvement. A What’s in the Box? quiz is genuinely inventive and amusing, aided by a member of the audience reluctantly playing along and coping well with the carefully orchestrated confusion of the proceedings.

The highlight of the show, dragging it out of the dismal realms of one star, is also in the second half. Sasha Krohn provides a breathtaking acrobatic performance which is both effortless and daring. It is wonderful to watch, but also notable that Krohn is not one of the regular members of the company and this is very much an interlude rather than something that feels like an integral part of the show.

The end impression, rightly or wrongly, is of a show that has been hastily prepared, thrown together and put on stage long before it should have been.

Whether or not it will manage to tighten up and improve enough to come even close to previous Flabbergast shows remains to be seen. On the basis of the first night, it has a very long way to go and doesn’t seem as if it has what it needs to get there.

Running time: Two hours (including one interval)
Assembly Roxy (Central), 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU.
Tue 12 – Thurs 21 Dec 2023.
Evenings: 7.30pm. (Central)
Tickets and details: Book here.


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  1. Craig C says:

    Really fair review. I lasted the whole of the first half but it was excruciating for all the reasons the reviewer pointed out. If they had stuck to the Christmas carol story where all the interesting bits of the show happened it might have been more enjoyable . A real waste of talent. Maybe they were investing in more audience participation to liven things up but with no audience this didn’t happen. No material. I didn’t wait to see if the second act picked up as I was so disappointed and freezing cold. A wasted opportunity