Guignol

Programming / Around the world in Puppets

Step 1 : Lyon – France

Puppetry is an art that is as old as it is poorly considered.
This is a pity, and I’m going to try to bring it up to date.

What is interesting, with this art, is that it is very easy to realize that each country, each culture, has in its memory its own puppets, with its stories, its plots, its typical characters.
From there to imagine a year: Around the world in puppets, there was only one step – that I crossed as soon as I thought of it.

I’ll start with my country, because I’m sure I’m not talking nonsense.

The puppet known by every French person, since his childhood, is Guignol.
He was born in Lyon, Guignol, Lyon, which we also call: the capital of the Gauls – Lyon, from the time when Lutetia was only a poor little city on the Seine and nobody could imagine becoming Paris.

That has changed and now the most famous Guignol is in Paris, right down the avenue des Champs Elysées – where you will still find children in Paris

Very, very famous “Guignol Theatre” – in Paris – Champs Elysées

In the very old role-playing game between the gendarmes and the thieves, Guignol, French hero, is the thief. He has a rare insolence. He is funny. What amuses him in life is to make fun of the gendarme – and what motivates the gendarme in life is to find Guignol to beat him up with sticks.

These two form a duo without which there is no “Guignol punchy” show.

If only the Gendarme had a stick, it would not be funny or French.
Guignol has a tavelle – it is a stick too, but it has so many more possibilities of action that the gendarme’s stick is really a bit pitiful; this stick is split in two, or in four: it will then make so much more noise… and will seem, from afar, so much more efficient.

Gnafron & Guignol


Of course, Guignol is not alone in the world – a thief all alone, what an idea? and his favorite friend will be named Gnafron – who will most often be a friend who allows you to dream of having enemies – it’s more relaxing.
Of course, without a girl, there is no story and here is the pretty or very ugly Madelon on the stage – depending on the story.
Sometimes she will be the lover of Guignol, and will be very very pretty, very very sweet, very very wise and almost unapproachable: she will then be quite beautiful.
Sometimes, she will have fallen for the smooth-talking thief and will then become very, very ugly, very, very annoying, very, very busy preventing her scoundrel husband from spending all the money on bottles of bad wine.

These invented characters – these created puppets – the theatre of Guignol functions exactly like the Italian theatre of the Commedia Dell Arte: the puppeteer chooses a plot, prepares his puppets in advance and will invent the lines, the adventures, the situations, according to the reactions of his public.

There are absolutely no “fixed plays” of Guignol: they are variations on the theme, sometimes very good, sometimes horribly boring: it depends on so many things!

Traditional puppets

We have many different ways to learn the heart of a country.
One fun and safe way is to go and see what the locals grew up with.
After seeing a puppet show, you can’t go wrong with a French: he prefers the wrong side of the Force, he doesn’t like authority figures, he has learned to shout: Be Careful Guignol !!!! Gendarme is coming !!!– when others learn to shout the opposite.
He learned that you can love to eat and drink in life, and that, when you’re pissed off, throwing yourself at the gendarme with a trick stick is a totally awesome activity.
And then… when he’s caught – but he plays the French charm to the hilt: he smiles at you and talks to you – he talks a lot of Guignol, it’s a French vice.

Well, a it is French, our frames are often very very very talkative – but when it comes to presenting these frames to smaller children, Guignol doesn’t talk anymore, he plays. He plays “a little”: these puppets are animated by a single artist in general – so they are, in truth, quite little animated.
This sometimes bothers adults – children never do, they have a vivid imagination enough to see actions where they are shown that there will surely be some.

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Featured Image : Guignol Theatre of Lyon Croix Rousse

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