REVIEW: The Daisy Theatre at Sydney Festival

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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.

Schnitzel on the right in The Daisy Theatre. Image by Prudence Upton

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!

Image by Prudence Upton

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!

Image by Prudence Upton

 

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.

Schnitzel ready for bed. Image by Prudence Upton

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.

You have until 26 January to see the show at the Sydney Festival. It’s on every night this week except Monday. Tickets and more information can be found here.

INTERVIEW Ronnie Burkett in Australia for The Daisy Theatre at Sydney Festival

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Canadian puppeteer, Ronnie Burkett, has brought his hilarious show The Daisy Theatre to Australia for the Sydney Festival this January. It is on until this Friday. Ticket details at the end of the post.

 

You recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes, how long have you been doing puppetry? 

This is currently the middle of the 31st year of Theatre of Marionettes. I began my fascination with puppetry at the age of seven, and by age fourteen started touring my own shows. Prior to starting Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes in 1986, I had worked for other puppeteers, done a considerable amount of television and film work, won an Emmy at the age of 21, and performed in schools, armed forces tours, cabaret, pretty much every and anywhere I could think of!

 

What first attracted you to puppetry?

The magic of making stories come alive, creating the actors from my imagination, the endless limitless possibilities available. I loved making things, loved storytelling and performing, and here was the perfect platform, all combined into one.

 

Did you study at a dedicated school?

I went to theatre school and trained as an actor, but found that very unsatisfying. My puppetry education came about through various mentors in the field who took me under their wings when I was a teenager.

 

Do you make the marionettes yourself?

I do. I design them, sculpt them, carve them, joint and paint them. I have a small team of amazing artisans who I have worked with for many years who help in the process.

Image of marionette in The Daisy Theatre by Prudence Upton

 

Have you performed in Australia before? If so, where?

This will be my 7th tour to Australia. I’ve performed in Perth, Brisbane, twice at the Sydney Opera House, and several times in Melbourne.

 

Where has been your favourite place to perform in the world?

Melbourne.

 

Do you have a dream performance place or audience?

Not really. I perform a lot, and at this point, the thrill of finding out who each audience is, is the thing that keeps me interested and excited.

Image of marionettes in The Daisy Theatre by Prudence Upton

 

What’s special about your show The Daisy Theatre?

One man, no script, 50 marionettes, musical numbers, a puppet stripper, and a character who will steal your heart. Where else can you see that?

The Daisy is very much current, but not one of those shows that is driven by the news of the day. It’s about our life during these times. And it’s also very silly, naughty, musical, fun.

 

Also, is it lonely travelling and performing solo?

No, it’s what I was trained to do, what I was told to expect if I wanted this career. I get to see many places, and I have friends in all of them, which is a lovely thing. I also tour with my stage manager, so it’s less alone than one might think.

 

Sum up The Daisy Theatre in one sentence.

A one-man improvised marionette show for adults only.

You can see The Daisy Theatre at the Sydney Festival until this Friday 26 January 2018. Tickets can be purchased here.