Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes, The Cultch Historic, Until Dec 22nd
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Penny Warwick
Ronnie Burkett is a creative force to be reckoned with. Having begun touring at the tender age of just fourteen his mastery of these puppets is just spellbinding to behold. As the small curtains of the tiny theatre-within-the-theatre open we see Burkett poised atop a minature-theatre-within-the-tiny-theatre-within-the-theatre (complete with its own velvet curtains no less) surrounded by dozens of exquisitely made puppets. The opening act of our vaudevillian escapade into Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol is a showgirl singing the innuendo-filled ‘Santa Claus got stuck in my Chimney’ whilst performing a striptease – an act which sets the mood of the entire evening up perfectly. This show deserves its 16+ rating, and it is quite special to see an adults only Christmas show which is not entirely live burlesque. So deft is Burkett in his control of the puppet as “she” removes her tiny clothing items. It really is magic to watch.
We go into the story, it is adapted to centre around the characters of the Daisy Theatre (the troupe of puppets) and it is nice to see that our Scrooge is actually a woman - our washed-out, bitter startlet Esmé. In tradition, we are introduced to her mean nature and sarcastic disposition through scenes with Cratchit, as well as a visit from (gasp!) amateur performers The Lunkheads and her hipster nephew. After the story is suitably set up, she is visited by the three ghosts on Christmas Eve as we are all familiar from Dickens' story. The clever switches in the story show us Esmé as a child star and the crippling pressure; as a young attractive up-and-comer who uses her sexuality to get ahead in the lewd showbiz industry (Apropros of current affairs indeed) and of course, after her death with her maid rifling through her possessions with glee. The story is true enough to the original be recognisable, whilst having enough differences to be engaging and thoughtful of its own accord.
Favourite moments for me, however, were the vignettes from other ‘performers’ – breaking up the story with songs and audience interaction, and in a show of this formidable length (90-120 mins – no intermission) these intervals serve the performance well in refreshing the audience and allowing space around the story.
In-jokes and local references (everything from the Jessies to the Arts Club) were met with mixtures of laughs and stifled gasps from an adoring crowd, most of whom are very familiar with Burkett and his gang of wooden accomplices. One of the members brought on stage has seen the puppet theatre no less than seven times, and I can see why. Ronnie Burkett not only is an incredible talent but he has an ease and charm about him that make you think you’re not simply ‘watching his show’ but that you are part of it, it’s somehow personal that you’re there in his theatre and he is genuinely pleased to see you.
There was the odd hitch, ‘The Max Blumchen Orchestrale’ pit band (an incredible creation by Eric James Ball/Noreen Young) unfortunately stopped working after an audience member managed to break off a handle and the odd string getting caught, which actually led to some hilarious moments as they were untangled and explained away by Burkett. Tiny blips in the grand scheme of this production.
I guarantee (unless you have already seen the Daisy Theatre) you will not have seen anything like this before. It is visually spectacular, exceptionally well executed and truly special to behold. There’s a reason why the Daisy Theatre has four sold-out runs at the Cultch, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if this makes it five. Get your tickets.
By Lillian Jasper
Being a Daisy Theatre “virgin” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an adults-only one-man marionette vaudeville show retelling of A Christmas Carol. Nonetheless, Ronnie Burkett has a cult following and plays to sold-out crowds all over the world. It’s easy to see why. Burkett is a puppet master. He has such unrelenting energy, enthusiasm and charm that it’s impossible not to be swept up in the absurdity of all. The jokes and language are often crude but the dialogue is so rapid fire that there simply isn’t time to be offended. Apparently it’s unscripted, which is almost unbelievable because Burkett is just that good.
As for the story, we all know how it goes - nasty Scrooge (portrayed by Daisy Theatre staple, faded diva Esmé Massengill) is cruel to her family and employees, and is then visited by the ghost of her former partner and the three spirits of Christmas. She learns to be a better person (maybe?) and we get some cute musical numbers. There is hefty and sometimes unnecessary padding. Some “bits” went on a bit long; I loved Edna Rural to an extent but she came so late in the proceedings that her routine felt like too much of a diversion. The Dickens seemed more like an afterthought by the end, which is where the improvisational nature started to show itself.
The puppets themselves are lovely and grotesque works of art. The attention to detail and craftsmanship is astonishing. Burkett infuses each one with their own distinct personality, character voice, individual tics and subtle gestures. They seem so alive on stage that when they are hung up to wait on the sidelines, it’s disturbing to see them so lifeless. I especially loved Lil Schnitzel, Spanky the Bellhop, and the “worst actors in the world”, the Lunkheads.
If you’ve seen Ronnie Burkett's work before, you already know what to expect. Though I have nothing to compare it to, I can't imagine someone who's already a fan being disappointed in this latest offering. If you have never attended the Daisy Theatre before, all I can suggest is that you take a chance on something new this holiday season. Puppetry of this calibre is a special kind of theatre, one that I’ve never had the opportunity to truly appreciate until now. The craft and skill that goes into making it look effortless is what makes it so magical. It’s foul-mouthed fun backed by artistic wizardry, and it’s entertaining as hell.