Theatre review of Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes' The Daisy Theatre; October 27 - November 15, 2015 at Big Secret Theatre, Arts Commons in Calgary, AB.

Ronnie Burkett and has cast of outrageous puppets. Photo credit: Gavin Young, Calgary Herald.

Master puppeteer Ronnie Burkett entertains and inspires with The Daisy Theatre 

Dark, witty humour prevails in Burkett's marionette show with a surprisingly inspirational message. 

World-renowned puppeteer Ronnie Burkett is back in town with his infamous troupe of marionettes. Together, this interesting cast of characters is giving Calgary audiences the type of larger-than-life, adult humour-filled entertainment they’ve come to expect from Burkett’s creative mind. In his current production, Daisy Theatre, Burkett is at the top of his game, bringing back many long-time favourite puppets…aka, some of the most potty-mouthed, outrageous, strange, frightening and hilarious puppet creations ever to grace the stage.

I previously watched Burkett in action a few years ago, in his production of Penny Plain at Alberta Theatre Projects. I remember being in awe at how lifelike yet twisted his puppets were. Much like great character sketch artists, Burkett finds ways of accentuating certain features of each of his puppets to humourously emphasize their unique characteristics. And he always gives his puppets a voice that marvellously matches these characteristics.

World-famous puppeteer Ronnie Burkett is back in Calgary, pulling the strings for some of his favourite puppets.

The Daisy Theatre is filled to the brim with risqué, mature humour and like all of Burkett’s shows, a lingering sense of darkness overshadows it all. Let me elaborate on this. As I mentioned, The Daisy Theatre features some of Burkett’s long-time favourite characters. These characters are all either filthy, demented, peculiar or all of the above.

The Daisy Theatre is part-improve on Burkett’s part, and he ad libs throughout the performance and changes up the show each time, so the set list of characters will vary each performance. On the night I attended, we were introduced to Dolly, a burlesque performer; and Franz, a frighteningly strange, domineering and hypersexual puppet who controls the interesting fairy child, Schnitzel. We were also entertained by aging ventriloquist Meyer Lemon and his outspoken dummy; Sears housecoat-wearing suburban senior Edna Rural; and cynical stage star Rosemary Focaccia.

The innocent, fairy child puppet, Schnitzel.

There’s one thing many of these puppet characters have in common: they’ve been around the puppet block a few times and they’re jaded. These are not chipper Sesame Street-type puppets. They’ve seen the not so bright side of the footlights and have a thing or two to say about it. While they offer hilarious anecdotes and stories, one can’t deny the shades of sarcasm and unhappiness in their acts.

This parade of darkened humour is in contrast to the character of Schnitzel, whose innocence and optimism shines in stark opposition. Because of this, Schnitzel is nicely set up to deliver the play’s main message near the end of the show. Schnitzel explains how the audience’s enthusiasm has inspired him and given him hope to achieve his dreams. He remarks on how together, the audience and the puppets have shared a thought-provoking experience that has ultimately helped him grow his confidence. And that’s why the show is named The Daisy Theatre...because it’s about the audience and puppets working together to grow something in the dark.

Burkett is an extraordinary craftsman and it’s amazing to witness his genius in action. His incredible ability to ad lib both as himself and as the puppets is remarkable and wonderfully entertaining. He makes sure that he offends absolutely everyone, so that no one feels singularly offended. Burkett also enlists the assistance of audience members who are voluntold by him to come up to the stage and assist him. Burkett hilariously incorporates these “volunteers” into the show and makes sure audience members get a little eye candy along the way.

Aging stage star, Rosemary Focaccia with her band members.

Throughout it all, there is definitely a point to everything. At the conclusion of the show, Schnitzel is gracious enough to thank to the two “volunteers” for being so forthcoming and brave. He explains how life is all about taking chances and not having regrets.

Speaking as someone who purposefully avoided eye contact with Burkett when he was seeking his “volunteers”, this message definitely struck a cord with me and made me think about how I approach things in my life. It was a surprising message to take away from The Daisy Theatre, and a poignant one indeed. It made me realize that this message was basically the same message some of the jaded puppet characters in the show were trying to convey all along. Life is too short to regret not putting yourself out there and taking risks. Thank you Ronnie Burkett for an evening of ridiculously silly, entertaining and insightful entertainment. 

The Daisy Theatre plays at Big Secret Theatre, Arts Commons until November 15th. Click here for ticket information.