Created and performed by Ronnie Burkett. A Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes production. At the Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Tuesday, December 5. Continues until December 22
Puppeteer Ronnie Burkett’s Daisy Theatre—a collection of tiny vaudevillians who never do the same show twice—is back at the Cultch for the fifth straight year, but this time there’s a twist: Burkett is performing an adaptation of A Christmas Carol—and it’s definitely not for the whole family.
That’s clear right from the curtain raiser: a gift-wrapped Miss Dolly Wiggler singing “Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney” while peeling off successive layers of clothing and tossing them away, all with her exquisitely articulated marionette arms.
Then we move backstage, where aging diva Esmé Massengill is abusing her long-suffering assistant, Cratchit, on Christmas Eve. Show biz provides some hilarious parallels to the world of Dickens’s story. Like Scrooge, Esmé receives a Christmas greeting from a nephew, Fred, an indie singer-songwriter, and a visit from representatives of a local charity representing underemployed actors. “Is there no dinner theatre? Is there no school touring?” Esmé retorts when asked for a donation.
Also like Scrooge, Esmé is visited by three spirits (not the “vodka, gin, and brandy” she expects) who guide her through her past, present (including Daisy Theatre favourite Schnitzel, playing Tiny Tim), and future, whereby she finds a kind of redemption.
Burkett’s unmatched talents as a puppet artist are on display not only in the Dickens story—just watch Esmé try to get comfortable on her chaise longue before the first supernatural visitation—but in the variety pieces he tucks around it: everything from a sing-along led by Mrs. Edna Rural in a light-up Christmas-tree frock to a retro crooner in a dishevelled tuxedo who sings “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” with his hand casually tucked in his pocket. Burkett’s attention to detail in the puppets’ costumes, props, and gestures is a constant source of wonder and delight.
This show was created especially for the Cultch, and on opening night, Burkett confessed to being nervous. He needn’t be. Making it up on the fly is part of what the Daisy Theatre is all about. The Dickens story provides a solid platform for Burkett’s high-strung irreverence, but it also has a core of sweetness and generosity that make this show a genuine gift. Enjoy it, Vancouver.