Anglo theatre: Ronnie Burkett’s «Little Willy»: Shakespeare for Sillies
by Yanik Comeau (Comunik Média / ZoneCulture)
Like Ronnie Burkett, I loved marionettes when I was a child and had an amazing collection of Pelham and hand puppets that are definitely the source of part of my passion for creating theatre. But contrary to Burkett, when I got older, I started to look down on pupeteering as a «childish» form of art… up until I rediscovered the art form thanks to Kobol Marionnettes’ very dark and adult «puppet shows» and the irreverent Avenue Q off-Broadway. What Ronnie Burkett creates with his Daisy Theatre follies is not only zany, irreverent and downright hilarious, it takes the art of adult puppetery to a whole new level.
I didn’t get a chance to see Burkett’s Little Dickens, the appropriately titled Christmas show he imagined based on A Christmas Carol, but I certainly wasn’t going to miss Little Willy in which the master puppeteer turns Shakespeare on his ear. When Burkett is introduced and comes on stage to speak to the audience, he is greeted like a rock star. Fans of the Daisy Theatre know his work and are obviously dying to reconnect with his humour, his characters, his universe. After asking how many audience members have been to a Daisy Theatre show before and how many are «virgins», Burkett explains that the show might vary in length since it isn’t scripted per se.
Say what? Yet as the show starts and ramps up at the speed of light, the uninitiated quickly realize that although the show might have been created through improvisation, very little of this «unscripted» show has NOT been written even if it hasn’t been typed. Burkett plays a multitude of characters, switching accents, tones and pitches while regularly looking up at the audience with a tongue-in-cheek remark as he masterfully handles the puppets. Having built puppets himself as well as perfected the art of handling them and circumventing the complexities of manipulating string puppets, Burkett creates total magic in the beautiful castelet that is reminiscent of the old travelling circuses (remember the music video for Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s Say Say Say?– yeah, like that).
Very quickly, Burkett establishes that we will be witnessing a twisted, messed up adaptation of Romeo & Juliet and that Shakespeare himself will witness some of the mess created by Burkett’s eclectic cast of characters. To add to all the backstage mayhem and mishaps that actually happen front and centre, Burkett spontaneously recruits audience members to join him on stage and help him out, either by pitching in with a few extra hands to make the puppets dance around (taking off their shirts and showing off their chests is optional for the young men Burkett chooses!) or to act as a dead Romeo to libidinous veteran character actress Esme Massengill’s Juliet for the dramatic finale of the star-crossed lovers!
While many new characters have been created for this particular show, what we understand to be Burkett’s classic characters, recurring players so to speak, like Schnitzel and Edna Rural, bring a familiar ring to the ears of Daisy Theatre long-time fans without making newbies like your's truly feel left out.
Ronnie Burkett – need I repeat it – is an absolute master of his art and the stage is his home, his stomping ground, the place where he seems most comfortable. Without taking a breath (obviously, this is a metaphor), he delivers a two-hour show with a love for the audience and his numerous alter egos without batting an eye. Little Willy is an absolute delight that had me in stitches, and wiping my eyes with tears of laughter. My ribs hurt from so much laughing... and that is NOT a metaphor.
Little Willy by Ronnie Burkett Original Music by John Alcorn Marionette, Costume and Set Design by Ronnie Burkett Production Manager/Artistic Associate: Terri Gillis Stage Manager/Technical Director: Crystal Salverda Dramaturge: Tanja Jacobs Associate Producer: John Lambert Costumes: Kim Crossley A Daisy Theatre/Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes production From May 2nd to May 14th, 2023 (duration: approx. 2 hours no intermission) Centaur Theatre, 453, rue Saint-François-Xavier, Vieux-Montréal Reservations: 514-288-3161 Information: https://centaurtheatre.com/shows/little-willy/