What do Princess Henriette and Mephisto have in common?

by | Sep 23, 2022 | Raise the curtain

Mephisto is from the play “FAUST” by Klaus Schriefer/HH, while Princess Henriette comes from the family production of the KOBALT Figurentheater Lübeck “DER GESTIEFELTE KATER”.  

Both are hand puppets and are presented in detail in the “POESIE DER THEATERFIGUREN“.  

The hand and arm of the player form the body of this type of puppet. They can be very spontaneous when talking to the audience, and are associated with being of good cheer, perhaps a little absurd and allowing spirited interaction.  

But that’s about all they have in common. Their respective designs come from quite different eras.  Mephisto belongs to a tradition that emerged in Europe especially after the Thirty Years’ War. Comic puppets and their counterparts, especially Death and the Devil, appeared all over Europe.  Henriette’s construction and playing style stems from the tradition of the youth and amateur movement that developed at the beginning of the 20th century.

Mephisto has a large, solid lime wood head that weighs a hefty 800 grams.  His hands are tiny and appear quite unimportant and are barely visible in the play. On the other hand, his face is carved in such a way that from the front and through his prominent profile he is easy to distinguish, even if, as an audience member one is sitting or standing far away. Built like a traditional fairground puppet, it’s design renders it suitable for outside performance. This puppet traditionally had to stand up well against the loud, colourful surroundings, but also against its opponents on stage.  Because the head is so heavy, the player (who was traditionally male) has to make big powerful movements with the puppet and have a resonant voice. And because fairground characters always defend themselves against their enemies with big props, the index finger is inserted in the head while within the arms are the thumb and middle finger. Rhythm and expansive placative gesture characterise the play with such puppets.

Henriette is a modern hand puppet, light – weighing about about 100 g. Her head is made of a cellulose-based modelling material. She too has a clear line of vision with her large eyes. But her movements are much more delicate because her hips are also the player’s wrist. This allows her to sit down, tilt her head, bend over charmingly and amongst other movements, swing her dress. Her hands are formed using the thumb and little finger of the puppeteer while with the puppeteers index finger in her head, the puppet can also stand completely upright.  Puppets such as this are mostly built with in-room performance in mind.  These more delicate figures and their new playing technique developed rapidly after the First World War. The fine play and the differentiated contact with the audience characterise these figures; they can be sad, dreamy but also naturally cheeky and funny.  

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