The Daisy Theatre: Driven to ecstasy by Ronnie Burkett
by Drew Rowsome - Photos by Alejandro Santiago
Ronnie Burkett popped my puppet cherry. And it was even better than I had fantasized.
Actually I am a puppet fan in general and have enjoyed several of Burkett's previous productions. However this was my first visit to The Daisy Theatre and, in Burkett's magical world, that made me a virgin.
Opening night was packed with virgins and I was far from the only one driven to ecstasy. We were all convulsed with laughter far more often than is proper and were, at least three times, moved to the misty-eyed edge of tears. The Daisy Theatre is that good.
Burkett bounds on stage and crows, "Let's do a puppet show." Taking The Muppet Show to beyond its logical adult extreme, various acts strut, slink or are cajoled on stage to perform. Each night is, apparently, different, but the tight two hours we were treated to, never lost momentum or seemed anything but a carefully constructed evening of theatre. The loose structure suits Burkett and his joy is so infectious, the sweat and effort never concealed but so punctuated with gleeful giggles at what he is getting away with, that it is exhilarating.
It makes no sense to laud individual puppets as they may not perform on any specific night, but Schnitzel, who opens and closes the show so seems integral to the structure, is a delightful character. He allows Burkett to simultaneously send up and exploit the most basic of Disney-esque self-empowerment themes to stunning effect while remaining cute enough to be merchandised. And for all Burkett's barbs about meta-theatre, and there are many, The Daisy Theatre toys with more ideas than an angst-ridden epic but without inflicting any of the suffering that capital "A" art usually entails. The ventriloquist act Meyer & Woody, neatly turn a manipulated puppet manipulating a dummy into an existential exploration of reality. And reality vs theatre. The puppets appear to possess Burkett and while he is the one pulling the strings with astonishing skill, it all feels spookily, wonderfully, symbiotic.
But those thoughts only come after. During the course of The Daisy Theatre, one can only be entranced and weak with laughter. Even those who are plucked from the audience and commanded to join the puppets on stage are having a great time. There is no fourth wall, the puppets are as human as those of us who are flesh and blood. Maybe they are meta-human and that is what allows them to overflow with the emotions we all feel, but rarely dare to express.
Perhaps Burkett leers a few times too often and risks over indulging in lewd puns, but they are puppets. The jabs at the theatrical experience and theatre in general (Toronto in specifics), seem to be designed to cement an underdog status that Burkett has, without question, risen well above. But those are small quibbles for an evening that included burlesque, Shakespeare, nudity, drag, and a full orchestra of puppets accompanying Las Vegas almost-legend Rosemary Focaccia in a never to be forgotten, fringed-dress shimmying, rendition of "Mangia, Mangia."
Far be it from me to promote licentiousness, but for those with puppet cherries still intact, The Daisy Theatre will set you up for healthy and desirable relationships with, and this double entendre is lifted directly from Burkett, wood.
The Daisy Theatre runs until Sun, April 5 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St. factorytheatre.ca