Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Daisy Theatre

Wonderfully, lovably, hilariously Canadian puppets
Ronnie Burkett’s latest work ramps up the silliness
by Chris Lane

Ronnie Burkett is a true master of puppets, and with his latest work, The Daisy Theatre, he’s just plain having fun, and leaving the audience in stitches.

The production is a series of 'playlets' involving one or two marionettes, which are only roughly scripted and vary substantially from night to night. They all make up The Daisy Theatre, which is the kookiest and crassest travelling theatre troupe this side of the 49th parallel. The marionettes make so many snarky asides and Vancouver-oriented jokes that each performance feels like a special treat just for that night’s audience.

Burkett’s latest work is lighter fare than what he usually does. And it’s paying off – it’s easy to see how much he loves his work by the intricacies of his designs and his laughing face as he performs. Watching the puppeteer looming over the puppets is part of the enjoyment of a Burkett production; while it’s easy to be absorbed with the play itself, it’s also worth watching a true master at work.

He has honed his craft to the point where it looks as if he’s just having fun half the time, as he at times he speaks directly to the audience as either marionette or puppeteer, and yet it’s still a production of a very high calibre. He has an incredible ability to voice singlehandedly a heated argument with puppet lips flapping at a mile a minute. Not only that, but his intricately-designed puppets are so expressive they seem human, despite being wooden and less than two feet tall.

Some of the characters are new for this show, while some have been seen in previous Burkett works, but they’re far from slowing down. There’s Mrs. Edna Rural, the small-town dear from Alberta in her Sears house dress, all of the best Canadiana jokes rolled into one puppet, whose bit was not only hilarious but also very touching. There’s Esme, a wonderfully conceited elderly showgirl. And there was Schnitzel, an adorable little thing dressed as a fairy who wishes to be granted wings – the audience ended up enthusiastically cheering for the lovable Schnitzel. And there are a whole lot more – even a power-bottom rabbit.

One word of warning: some of the marionettes like to call people up from the audience. But fortunately for everyone else, this leads to some side-splitting comedy. And where else will you have a puppet hitting on you?

The Daisy Theatre is uproariously funny, it’s smart, and it’s touching. Burkett is at the top of his craft, and is a Canadian treasure.

Running time: varies every night; could be 90 to 120 minutes

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