Heir to a two century tradition, Amiens became little by little the French capital of puppets with rods and wires. The first marionnettists appeared during the XVII century. On the occasion of the fair of Saint-Jean-Baptist, the inhabitants of the Amiens area could attend small spectacles given around the Cathédrale.
Many puppet theatres flourished in the four corners of the city until the days before the First World War.The " Belle Epoque " counted more than twenty or so rooms distributed throughout each district including five in Saint-Leu. The plays given in Amiens were performed in these rooms in the form of buffooneries interpreted by little characters made of wood. It was the theatre of the poor..." says Francoise Rose, Director of the
" Théâtre d' Animation Picard ".
Their hero, Lafleur, the leader, is a jolly fellow whose cheekyhumour sometimes satirizes contemporary society. It is so famous that a place in Amiens bears its name. It is to Amiens what Guignol is to Lyon. Besides it seems to be contemporary with him. But contrary to Guignol, Lafleur is a puppet with wires (one at each limb) and has a very visible metal rod fixed to his head. The unit is handled by a " croix d'attelles " ( crossed wooden sticks).
He is a servant, proud, a liar, a drunkard but always good humored. Like Guignol, he is a righter of wrongs, always in dissension with the gendarmes ("cadorets"), always ready to draw his Master away from bad situations. He gradually takes the character of an authentic Picard. Associated with him are a woman, Sandrine, two masters, a woman and a man, and finally gendarmes, rural policemen and soldiers. In the theatres where these characters perform, one names them show-offs, more exactly "cabotans". This term comes from " cabotin/cabotine " which means a, "travelling Actor, poseur, person who plays a noisy comedy to put himself forward!.... ". This word used in Picardy and especially in Amiens where the tradition is still long-lived does not exist, it seems, in feminine gender, the great majority of these puppets with wires and rod being male. It describes these puppets, very local and really very spectacular as much by the superb quality of their artistic workmanship as by the bold spirits which their bright colors convey.
After the First World War, with the development of the cinema these theatres declined, and it is only since 1933 that Lafleur and his friends reappeared on the " amienoise " scene with the creation of "Chés Cabotans of Amiens" by Maurice Domon, marionnettist and great defender of the Picardy language, who founded his own company at that time. But the second world war stopped the activity of this enthusiast. He will however start his little " cabotans " again after 1944 on the stage of many French and European theatres. Lafleur, Sandrine and T'Chot Blaise become as time goes by the true ambassadors of Picardy culture to the world. Their success will see the company named as the "Permanent Official Theatre of the Town of Amiens" in 1967.