Last week we went to see Ronnie Burkett’s Theatre of Marionettes’ The Daisy Theatre at Sydney Festival. You can also read an interview that we did with Ronnie Burkett here.
When a show starts with a striptease, you can’t help but ask yourself “what will happen next?”
This cheeky start was not the most shocking thing to happen in the show with people having apparently walked out in shock in previous performances!
Ronnie Burkett gives life to marionettes in the Daisy Theatre. He tells us at the beginning of the show that there are 40 of them but that we can’t possibly see all of them during the one two-hour show. Rather, each show is different given that different marionettes will be brought out depending on both Burkett’s mood and that of the crowd.
After the stripper, we meet two circus people, one very tall man with pervy tendencies and another very little character with a cute little voice called Schnitzel who is clearly scared of the other. The reason for Schnitzel’s name is never explained. Schnitzel, once alone on stage, tells us about his life, not feeling like he fits in and his wish for wings to be able to fly. He tells that sometimes he sees a man above, his creator and asks the audience if we too would like to see the man above. The crowd enthusiastically answers yes. Schnitzel then climbs the stage curtain to ask the man above if he will give him wings. The man doesn’t reply. The audience has already fallen in love with Schnitzel.
Next up we meet a divorcee from Nashville who sings and dances for us. She is wearing a fabulous, detailed costume – just as all characters we meet are. Dressed in a white fringed dress, with white fringed boots, she amuses us for her musical number.
Schnitzel met his maker at the beginning of the show. Now it is time for the audience to meet Jesus. Jesus told us about his last Christmas with his parents and just how much he hates Easter with his Dad’s incessant bad jokes. Apparently this was the moment that had a lady walk out of the show previously. Jesus comically explains to us that commandments 1 to 10 can be forgotten and that it is commandments 11 to 20, which Moses couldn’t fit on the stone because he wrote the others too large, that are more important. He leaves us with commandment 11 – don’t be an arsehole.
Then it’s up to the audience to choose between 3 different characters to come out next. The crowd was divided but in the end it was the former Hollywood actress performing, and butchering, Shakespeare. She decides to perform Romeo and Juliet which of course means she needs a Romeo. A bearded man was chosen from the audience and brought onto the small stage. In a scene which became more and more ridiculous by the minute, the two of them attempt to re-enact the final scene of Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet wakes from her fake poisoning to find that Romeo has in fact properly poisoned himself and she decides to now join him in death. Our Hollywood actress was quite demanding and made our poor audience member Romeo do the scene over and over again. By about the 8th try, just before it could become too tiresome for the audience, they get it right!
Burkett promised us vaudeville at the beginning of the show and he kept that promise. In a touching scene we see an elderly ventriloquist who is asleep and his dummy on his lap is willing him to wake up to perform their famous scene. This scene managed to put tears in the audience, this time not tears of laughter but twinging tears of compassion and empathy for the dummy explaining the ridicule and difficulty of their lives as has beens.
Next up, we meet Edna, the elderly lady who ended up on stage by accident. She thought she was in the green room. She makes us laugh with her stories of the CPC (the Commonwealth Pie Championships, of course!) However, she also touches us and pulls on our heart-strings with stories of her now deceased husband.
Then it was time for another audience choice. The character chosen by our audience was a Québécois lady who had been a popular singer in her time. She too needed audience assistance so another man was brought on stage from the audience. She mocked him for his choice of theatre attire (shorts and thongs). Seeing the interaction between these two was hilarious especially when our Québécois lady reminisced about the two of them making love. Reddening, the man didn’t know where to look or quite what to do! Having embarrassed him enough, or at least for now, she instructs him to turn wheels on a box which has been sitting in front of the stage. He does so and to our surprise an orchestra of marionettes comes out. Turn the wheel on the other side of the box and this orchestra starts to perform!
We couldn’t possibly finish the show without seeing Schnitzel again who this time arrives on stage in his pyjamas with his teddy bear ready to go to bed. He talks to us about the courage of the audience members who came on stage and the love that he feels for the crowd. It was again a very touching moment.
Ronnie Burkett is a marvel! Creating the characters, making the marionettes and then giving them a life for 2 hours straight without interval is incredible. Also impressive is the way that he could make the audience relate to the characters. We related to their stories – Edna now widowed and Schnitzel not fitting in. If you go to see just one show before Sydney Festival finishes, we highly recommend you make it this one.