If you see one puppet show this year (or this lifetime) make sure it’s this one.
More than 40 creepily realistic and very adult-themed puppets – everything from a snarky old dowager to a self-described “fairy boy” named Schnitzel – come together in The Daisy Theatre, a unique “puppet cabaret” returning to the Cultch, Dec. 1-Dec. 20.
The show incorporates dramatic set pieces, variety acts, music, monologues and lots off off-colour jokes – all performed by the ever-changing cast of puppets. Amazingly, all the action is controlled by one man. Behind the strings, working from a balcony high above the stage, is Canada’s undisputed puppet master, Ronnie Burkett.
Burkett has won acclaim from everyone from The New York Times to the Georgia Strait. He’s widely credited with turning contemporary puppetry into a respected art form over his long career. In total, Burkett has spent nearly 30 years entertaining audiences around the world with sultry, bawdy and introspective tales – all acted out by his own intricately hand-crafted puppets.
His stories, which are dark and sometimes disturbing but always with a comic twist, incorporate vivid characters and focus on deeply personal themes, from loneliness and exclusion to lust, old age and mental illness. While the stories themselves are engaging, a big part of the thrill of watching Burkett is his technical mastery. Each hand-carved, incredibly detailed creation moves with a lifelike grace. Characters passionately embrace, run, dance and even breathe – all as Burkett works the strings off-stage.
For his latest appearance at the Cultch, Burkett brings back a production that sold out the last time it was in Vancouver. The Daisy Theatre takes its inspiration from the illegal “daisy” puppet shows staged during World War II in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. In Burkett’s skilled hands, his ensemble of more than three dozen puppets acts out a series of songs, monologues and edgy “playlets” . . . all sure to raise a few eyebrows. The production is for ages 19 and up, with a sense of humour that ranges from off-colour and explicit to plain absurd.
Audiences that have seen the show before should rest assured that each and every performance of The Daisy Theatre is different. Burkett incorporates a significant element of improvisation into each night’s show. Vignettes are selected and altered based on the mood of the crowd and Burkett’s own tastes, and the puppets’ wild dialogues and rambling monologues are never quite the same.
The Daisy Theatre with Ronnie Burkett appears at the Cultch Dec. 1-Dec. 20. Tickets range from $35-$47.