Belgian actor and puppeteer. José Géal first worked at the Théâtre National de Belgique/Het Nationaal Theater van België (National Theatre of Belgium), then in 1954 founded the Théâtre pour l’Enfance (Theatre for Children) and created for television two puppet series, Plum Plum and Bonhommet et Tilapin. At the beginning of the 1960s, José Géal met the group “Les Amis de la Marionnette”, Friends of the Puppet, mainly supporters of the Toone dynasty. Toone VI now old and without an heir, was about to give up performing. Géal agreed to take the torch and was installed as Toone VII on December 10, 1963. Three years later, he managed to move the company into a permanent theatre with a café and a museum in the Îlot Sacré, the heart of old Brussels.
In keeping with tradition, José Géal did not manipulate the puppets. Through a lighted opening cut above the stage, his head could be seen, speaking for all the characters, his voice setting the rhythm of the six puppeteers’ movements. A character himself, Géal sported, in bigger and perfect symbiosis, the checked cap of Woltje. He no longer played the traditional pieces in episodes but all in one evening. Like other works adapted from the “big” theatre, the plays were often from the pen of Arthur and Elizabeth Fauquez. The entire repertoire, always adult, was inevitably provocative and spicey, consisting of parody in the savoury language of Woltje, a mixture of Brussels-speak and the local slang known as “marollian”. José Géal also used such renowned designers as Serge Creuz and Thierry Bosquet.
In French, but also in Dutch, English, German, Italian and Spanish, Toone VII performed, for example, Les quatre Fils Aymon (The Four Sons of Aymon), Les Pardaillan (The Pardaillan Family), Le Bossu (The Hunchback), Lucrèce Borgia, Tijl Uilenspiegel (Till Eulenspiegel), Hamlet, Cyrano, L’École des Femmes (The School for Wives), Geneviève de Brabant (Genevieve of Brabant), Carmen, Faust, Les trois Mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers), Le Lion des Flandres (The Lion of Flanders), Don Juan, 1830: la Révolution Belge (1830: The Belgian Revolution), and of course the five “reconstituted” works by the theatre’s most favoured author, Michel de Ghelderode.
On 10 December 2003, the direct line of succession took over the popular dynasty, and Nicolas, the son of Toone VII and Andrée Longcheval (the museum’s curator), was crowned Toone VIII.