It may happen on a traditional marionette stage, but from the very start, Ronnie Burkett makes clear that The Daisy Theatre is far from your average puppet show.
Famed for sharply witty, insightful and jaw-droppingly beautiful works, including Tinka’s New Dress, Penny Plain and Billy Twinkle, the renowned Canadian puppeteer has returned with the improvisation-heavy, cabaret-style work, which begins with a character who bares it all.
“The very first thing you see is a marionette who does a farm strip number called Hoedown on the Farm,” says Mr. Burkett with a laugh, explaining that the act primes the audience for a show that’s sillier and naughtier than anything he has done before.
From there, theatregoers will meet any number of characters, from a cow in a chiffon dress with high heels, to Helgar the Dutch transvestite, to a wistful little fairy named Schnitzel. Each night the mix changes, and much of what they say and do is made up on the fly.
“The last couple of shows I had done were pretty heavy, dark and dense, and I love those shows, but I thought, ‘I actually just need to do something that’s ridiculous, and have fun for a while,’” says Mr. Burkett about the inspiration behind The Daisy Theatre, which was such a hit at the Citadel in Edmonton, they’ve already booked it again for next year. “And suddenly I was just building puppets for the heck of it again.”
For Mr. Burkett, who has been touring for more than four decades, the most rewarding moments come when he can hear a pin drop as Edna Rural confesses how much she misses her late husband, or when a character like bitter Hollywood vamp Esmé Massengil whips up peals of laughter as she transforms a hapless audience member into her eunuch slave boy.
“It’s never lost on me that these are puppets, and people can see me working them, and still they dive in and go for it. I mean, Esmé has been doing something in her shtick, and I could literally hang the puppet up and go have a coffee and the audience would still be laughing. I could milk that forever,” Mr. Burkett says with a laugh. “It’s just the joy of standing there going, ‘Okay, how far do we want to go with this?’”