French puppet character. As Amiens’ local hero in Picardie, he was also used in the Borinage region in Belgium. Lafleur is a “cabotin”, a show-off, a rod marionette (French: marionnette à tringle) with a string on each arm and leg. This character’s creator was probably Louis Belette, a worker in the lower city who had established a puppet theatre during the Empire at the beginning of the 19th century. He was inspired by a legendary regional figure, and each of Belette’s imitators added a little of himself to Lafleur. In the 19th century, there were about seventy “cabotin theatres” in the working class neighbourhoods of Amiens that were usually managed by former labourers and played to packed houses.
Lafleur is a comic servant, constantly in a good mood, a proud liar, not very scrupulous, always hungry and falsely naïve, who strives to get his master out of trouble while defying the authorities which he invariably gets rid of by giving them a grand final boot. He wears the livery, the tricorne (three-cornered) hat, and the 18th century braid of a valet. He is accompanied by a strong woman, Sandrine, and a fearful companion, Tchot Blaise. Lafleur appears in the entire Amiens repertoire of that time, including the mysteries.
After falling from grace in the eyes of the public at the end of the 19th century, Maurice Domon, a disciple of the elder famous puppeteer Barbier, gave Lafleur a new lease on life by writing about fifteen comic plays in patois for him and by creating, in 1933, the troupe Chés Cabotans, devoted to maintaining the Picard tradition. Under the direction of Françoise Rose since 1967, the company presented Lafleur’s facetiousness so successfully that he has become a privileged guest in an architecturally modern permanent theatre in the Saint-Leu neighbourhood.
In the Borinage of Belgium at the end of the 19th century, three theatres used Lafleur in a limited repertoire: in Le Diable dans l’horloge (The Devil in the Clock), the devil is booted out by the famous kick as Lafleur tells him, “Beau diable, je vais te faire passer ton bousin (embarrass)” (“Here you go Devil, I’ll make you get over your drunkenness”); Lafleur dans le grenier (Lafleur in the Attic); La Tentation de saint Antoine (The Temptation of Saint Anthony) in which Lafleur curiously sets fire to the pig’s tail.
In the Quaregnon region of Belgium, the theatre of Evariste Mollet presented Lafleur, and in Jemappes it was the famous Baraque Tacou and the Théâtre Lecomte. In this theatre, which operated from 1897 to 1925, Lafleur differed markedly from the Amiens model in form and manipulation: he was tall (83 centimetres), wearing a beautiful brown finely striped outfit bordered in red with a weighed-down basque (jacket bottom) that could “fly”, huge red wooden clogs at the end of legs that were articulated at the knees, a large white apron, and especially, a white cap with a red tassel where an operating string was attached giving it a predominant role: “Ah! J’èstoufi, car l’colère me monte jusqu’à l’floche de m’bounèt!” (“Ah! I’m suffocatin’, because the anger is rising all the way up to the tassel in my cap!”).
- Les Marionnettes picardes des origines à 1960. Drames et bouffonneries [Picardy Puppetry from their Origins to 1960. Dramas and Antics]. Exhibition catalogue. Amiens: Éditions Martelle/Musée de Picardie, 1996.