Reginald Theatre, January 13, until January 26


Daisy res
Schitzel and bear. Photo: Prudence Upton.

Long before its practitioners came up with the wretched notion of purporting to represent reality, theatre did something infinitely more magical: it obliged its audiences to use their imaginations. In this lay-everything-out-on-a-platter era it sounds improbable, I know, but if most contemporary playwrights, actors and directors shy away from this job, at least there are still puppets to save the day.

Canadian Ronnie Burkett has been running his Theatre of Marionettes for 30 years, doing all the puppetry and voices himself. In its Daisy Theatre guise some 40 chracters haunt his backstage area: a cast of misfits, drunks, loudmouths, cutie pies and artistes of dubious repute, any of whom might be incorporated according to his whim on a given night. Perhaps his most endearing character was a wingless fairy child called Schnitzel, who had a kind of brutish minder called Fritz, and this pair could wander through a discussion of the paradigm of left-right politics as delightfully as kicking autumn leaves in the air. Even better was the head-spinning moment when Schnitzel, cheered on by the audience, climbed the little stage’s rear curtain to confront Burkett about his God-like tendencies.

Speaking of God, Jesus Christ made an appearance that may or may not constitute the Second Coming, delivering a nice line in Jewish humour, including the fact that he “hates Easter with a passion”. The most enthralling puppetry came when Burkett created the illusion of his characters appearing to manipulate other items such as a Zimmer frame, or burlesque artist Miss Polly Wiggler divesting herself of her clothing. A ventriloquist’s dummy called Little Woody Linden was hilarious chatting to us about his dilapidated ventriloquist, Meyer Lemon, while Meyer slept throughout – or possibly was deceased.

Several characters were female singers, and Burkett proved no slouch in providing smoky jazz vocals for Randy Rivers, or resuscitating the fading career of Miss Esmee Massengill, who performed on the bare chest of one of two extremely obliging audience members.

Although the puppetry in lowering the elderly Edna Rural into an armchair was supreme, her monologue rambled, and suddenly the show began to feel as if it had overstayed its welcome by some 20 minutes. But when it was on-song and humming, its transformative magic of making us extend our imaginations was real. Just don’t take the kids.