L'histoire de Guignol
This theater's history and of its one and only boss, Guignol, started with a "canut lyonnais" : Laurent Mourguet (1769-1844). The young weaver lived through, like most french in 1793, an economic crisis that forces him to reinvent himself. He decides to become a stallholder in the St-George neighborhood, in Lyon. In 1795, he moves to Place Boucherie-St-Paul, close to the current Théâtre le Guignol de Lyon.
In 1797, Laurent Mourguet becomes tooth puller and uses italian glove puppets, burattinis, to distract his patient's attention. The improvised dentist, with his daugher's help, performs traditional italian plays, but also often dabbles in creating is own, using improv. This way of creating quickly becomes his trademark. In 1804, he's a professionnal puppeteer.
He plays in a theater co-founded with Thomas Ladré, also known as "Père Thomas", who allegedly Gnafron's character was based on.
The legend says Guignol was created in 1808. He would be Laurent Mourguet's self-portrait, and his outfit would be inspired by a nativity character : le Père Coquard. He replaces Polichinelle, the puppet Laurent Mourguet used to use beforehand, and expresses ideas about the news and the daily life in Lyon.
The first Guignol theater was created in 1838, at the café du Caveau des Célestins, by Etienne Mourguet and Louis Josserand, Laurent Mourguet's son and grandson. In 1852 Etienne Mourguet's son opens another theater for Guignol, the one rue Port-du-Temple. Little by little, theaters dedicated to Guignol are being created everywhere in France. In Lyon, we can mention the one at the Passage de l’Argue where Pierre Rousset is training.
With the rise of the press, the canut loses his influence. His public becomes middle-class, and puppets soon leave improv and cafes in favour of lounge theater and written parody.
In 1907, Pierre Neichthauser, Eléonore Josserand's husband (Laurent Mourguet's great grand daughter) founds the theater of Quai Saint-Antoine with Ernest Neichthauser. This great Guignol's theater helps to revive the glove puppet's image, for instance to celebrites such as Fernandel and Joséphine Baker. Guignol gains his popularity back, and that until the company moves 2 rue Louis Carrand.
It's in 1966 that Hélène and Jeanne Neichthauser are forced to hand more than 265 puppets, their texts and sets to the city of Lyon that places them 2 rue Louis Carrand, in the cellars of Palais Bondy.
The Neichthausers leaves the street Louis Carrand in 1981. It's another member of the descendants of the creator of Guignol who takes over the direction of the theatre in 1983: Jean Brunel, known as Jean-Guy Mourguet. He was succeeded in 1990 by the actor Christian Cappezzone, then by the Compagnie des Zonzons in 1998.
The Compagnie M.A., founded in 2010 by Emma Utges, takes over the theater's direction in 2017. It creates and performs in the Neichthauser hall, and hopes to welcome you in this theatre for a long time to come!
FOURNEL, Paul. L’Histoire véritable de Guignol. Editions Fédérop. Paris, 1975.
BRIONE, Isabelle. "Jean-Guy Mourguet et Guignol : retour sur un vie de Saltimbanque", Le Progrès. 2019.