Traditional Théâtre des Marionnettes – open-air puppetry.
The Théâtre des Marionnettes – Puppet Theatre – in Rueil-Malmaison, 12 kilometres west of the centre of Paris, has a traditional red tented open-air Guignol puppet show.
The Théâtre des Marionnettes in Rueil-Malmaison is located on the promenade of the banks of the Seine near the park of the Impressionists, behind the Claude Monet school, 200 metres from the Place de l’Europe.
It is a small theatre company dating to 1981. In 2004, three men had the idea to create a castelet in the tradition of Guignol open-air theatres of the 19th century in Rueil-Malmaison, the hometown of General Napoleon, before he became Emperor. The three men were the President of the Compagnie du Petit Théâtre (Company of Small Theatres), Bernard Saigne, the Deputy Mayor of the City of Rueil-Malmaison, Patrick Ollier, and the Deputy Mayor, Michel Ricard.
A castelet is an element of a puppet theatre set that serves as the setting for the stage space. The term castelet – ‘little castle’ – comes from the Middle Ages. The little castle is the red kiosk-like stage-set, which many people recognize from Punch and Judy puppetry.
Guignol is the main character in a French puppet show – and the name of this traditional style of puppetry.
Laurent Mourguet (1769-1844), a silk worker (canut) from Lyon – working on the Jacquard looms – created Guignol at the beginning of the 19th century. The exact date is not known, but the first official record was in 1838, and historians speculate that Guignol was created in about 1808, or between 1815-1820. The last of the Mourguet family was Jean-Guy Mourguet, who died in Lyon on 8 October 2012 at the age of 82.
Guignol now means puppet, but the origin of his name is also unknown. Historians say the name comes from guign’œil – ‘bad eye’ – although the character does not squint. Some say it comes from guigne – ‘bad luck.’
Guignol has spawned some French expressions, such as ‘it’s guignolant’ – which means ‘it’s funny!’ – ‘to care about it like a guigne’ – which means ‘to make fun of it!’ – and ‘you guignol’ – which means ‘you buffoon.’
Guignol is a character who ‘knew almost everything about almost nothing’ – but he was always portrayed as clever, courageous, and generous – a person of good intent who triumped over evil.