Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nostalgic moment of the day

I'm afraid I have to extend our recent nostalgia/memory topos a little further. Driving home from work this afternoon, I passed two coaches of the Spejbl & Hurvinek theatre from Prague. I feel the need to share my elation.

Spejbl & Hurvinek are puppet characters - a not very brilliant father and a rather smart son - who spend their days engaging in somewhat silly question-and-answer games. There's isn't much going on in those sketches; their humour -- revealing a subtle awareness of the intricacies and absurdities of language and human communication -- being mainly linguistic.

These two are a European institution. They have been around for seventy odd years (since 1930) and accompanied me (and others of my generation) throughout my childhood. In fact they (together with the no less marvellous Augsburger Puppenkiste) helped shape one of my great (albeit brief) prepubescent professional ambitions: to have or work for a professional puppet theatre.

I got to see Spejbl & Hurvinek "live" on stage at least once (it's so long ago I don't remember). Apparently they're touring parts of Germany at the moment and in theory I could try to get tickets to see them tomorrow evening not far from here, but I don't know whether I'll have the energy. Have I told you all how tired I've been feeling lately? My puppet-groupie days are long over.

I thought you all deserve a bit of Spejbl & Hurvinek on this grey and dismal November day. Unfortunately, the only clip to be found is in Czech, but they're such expressive puppets (check out how Hurvinek leans over the bed at 0:57 and his brief, but strikingly life-like gesture of exasperation a little later) that at least some of the emotional gist of the plot is communicated.

Cute, no? I believe that the same voice actors did the German versions, with an unforgettable, charming Czech accent.


Steve Gimbel said...

How would you compare their humor to Anglo children's humor?

The Wife said...

Good question - which I have a hard time answering. My immediate association is Alice in Wonderland, which is of course quite exceptional in its treatment of language and the absurdities of existence. S&H is more contemplative and less nonsensical, but there are similarities.

Having said that, the notion of the quick-witted child and the somewhat phlegmatic and conservative parent is a central trope in children's literature.

But maybe it's not really children's humour at all. Some of the S&H productions are clearly directed at adults and I'm certain that they served as relatively safe vehicles to criticise "the system" of Cold War Czechoslovakia before 1989.

The Goon Show springs to mind.