Zlatko Bourek’s fashioning of the theatrical

(From the catalog Zlatko Bourek.Teatar nakaza-kazalište figura. 7.4.-10.5.2014. Publisher Gradski Muzej Vukovar, 2014.)

Educated as a sculptor, started as a caricaturist and illustrator, known as a scenographer and costume designer, renowned as an animator, prolific as a theatre director, irresistible as a painter of a specifically pensive, melancholy and grotesque micro-universe, artist Zlatko Bourek is a distinctive figure with a striking oeuvre. An oft-used comparison would have him as a creator of renaissance universality, a man who is equally skilled in different media and disciplines, always with a singular style and a coherent set of figures and attributes, space and ambience.

Notwithstanding his mastery of various techniques and means of creative expression, the multiple trials and challenges of the theatre have proven to be a particularly suitable field for the realization of Bourek’s unique skills and talents. In addition to diverse collaborations with other directors on furnishing the stage and dressing the actors, Bourek single-handedly created dozens of plays of various types and genres, differentiated forms of theatre praxis, operating at the same time as adaptor and director, designer of theatre sets and components, masks and costumes; in short, a well-rounded author.

Even when drawing on emblematic dramatic pieces (from Moliere and Shakespeare to Chekhov and Držić), he would often reduce and compress their work, and stylize and synthesize the characters and atmosphere in a satirical-parodic manner, accompanied by an unmistakable hint of gentle (or not so gentle) mockery. The spiritual (and, of course, witty) aspect of his personality was particularly well served by authors and texts of libertine-goliard provenance and dark humor, such as Alfred Jarry and Michael Ghelderode, or of fairytale-mythical or allegoric-archetypal models such as Orlando or Saint George and the Dragon.

The exhibited photographic documentation of the plays and puppets, though unable to convey the full experience and scope of these plays, provides a good insight into the nature and character of the directorial interpretation and an authentic testimony to Bourek’s irrepressible, bubbling imagination. Scenes from Rigoletto and Hamlet for a puppet scene, or sequences from Ubu Roi and The Miser for flesh-and-blood actors clearly speak to the artist’s sardonic figuration, caricatural communicativeness, plebeian frenzy, neo-baroque exuberance, systemic decadent deformation, accentuated linear stylization, and chromatic euphoria. The simultaneously suspended series of “living images” may offer an illusion of successive action, but they adequately demonstrate the established iconography and power of artistic expression.

The exhibited puppets are a further step to the original presentation of Bourek’s plastic language, his sculptor’s skill of designing complex forms painted in fresh and provocative colors. Puppetry is generally closest to the artist’s ideal of addressing the audience, both young and those who retain their purity and naivete, and he embraces the language of stark contrasts and powerful stimuli. Regardless of whether he uses marionettes or guignols, bunraku puppets, or some other figures and masks, Bourek’s theatre evokes the spirit of Grand Guignol, is at home in public squares and among the common folk, affiliated with carnivals, fairs, harlequin and vagabond experiences.

The so-called theatre of freaks gives his worldview a special mark. Whether he’s putting on The Hypochondriac or Marriage, The Divine Comedy or Hitler, Bourek is hypertrophying and accumulating all the negative features, evincing the presence of vice through ugliness and evil. Of course, not by moralizing but by representing avarice or gluttony, lust or envy, and these extremes are related but they also mutually overriding. Humorous eroticism and grotesque ugliness transcend their cause, sublimating and taming their own premises so that the theatre of freaks has a soothing, cathartic effect.

Tonko Maroević


The term “” has existed since the figures from the altars had spoken, not in churches but in fairs, squares and local pubs. At the beginning of the 20th century in Berlin, at the time of great turmoil, the German proletariat provided entertainment in communes by using wooden figures: Devil, Death, Capitalist, Widow… They sang reveilles and threw stones at the despised figures. Their wooden figures recited pathetic proletarian slogans, but also lascivious texts about capitalists and priests. In 1945 in Osijek, near the Drava’s winter harbor, there existed such a teatrino led by an aging ventriloquist. The program included lewd bećarci (a humorous form of folk song originating in Slavonia) and the audience threw rag balls at the figures. Whoever scored three times in a row would get a bottle of rum. At the same time, in the Latin school behind the Capuchin church, the young seminarians put up weekly figure theatre shows.

Figure theatre still remains an entirely folk phenomenon, sardonic, a little bit lascivious, biting, self-mocking.

Figure theatre is theatre like any other – twisted .