Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre
January 13, 2018
Aging divas, rambling grandmothers, a ventriloquist double act missing its ventriloquist, and Jesus are just some of the characters you’ll meet in Ronnie Burkett’s The Daisy Theatre. In a bawdy, acerbic puppet show that is ultimately very sweet, the Canadian Burkett voices and manipulates each and every one of his marionettes with astonishing skill and a slap dash improvisatory feel that’s thrilling and so right for Sydney Festival.
Schnitzel and Donald the orange bear. Photo © Prudence Upton.
Providing the heart of this show is a little puppet by the name of Schnitzel, whose main desire is to attain a set of wings. Schnitzel is harangued and put down by a thoroughly enjoyable brute named Fritz, and together they plunge the audience into an examination of the foibles of the political left and right that somehow manages to avoid feeling tired. Burkett growls and whimpers and rasps with such abandon as his characters that you often forget he’s there – the spotlight is entirely on the puppets and many of the vignettes win you over to their flaws, quirks and theatrics. The audience cheered with real investment as Schnitzel ascended the miniature curtain upstage to ask Burkett for a pair of wings, sighing in sympathy when he was treated cruelly. When Schnitzel re-emerged to give the show’s coda, what might have been saccharine was given real pathos by Burkett.
Adding to the improvisatory nature of the evening was Burkett’s many allusions to the rather modest venue, lampooning the peculiarities of opening night – I may have shrunk down in my seat slightly when a puppet accused the audience of being there on free tickets – and the suspect qualities of those attending a puppet show. One of the most satisfying segments involved Burkett summoning an admirably game audience member onstage to assist fading diva Esmé Massengill with a song and dance routine involving eunuchs. Disrobement (at least of the upper half) and lying prone onstage were just some of her requirements.
Rosemary Focaccia. Photo © Prudence Upton.
The only downside to the evening were some slightly long segments that could have done with some judicious editing, as when Edna Rural explains the provenance of her wedding ring and the magic ingredient in her pies. Yet Burkett’s energy was unflagging, more than making up for some of these less gripping entries. His growly, swoopy, “I’ve been a chain smoker for the past 40 years” delivery for Italian-American diva Rosemary Focaccia was spot on, as was his cool as a cucumber Jesus, whose Second Coming revealed the 11th commandment “don’t be an arsehole”.
Even if you think that puppets aren’t quite your thing, put aside your misgivings and book a ticket to The Daisy Theatre – it’s well worth your time.
The Daisy Theatre plays as part of Sydney Festival until January 26.