Review: Ronnie Burkett’s The Daisy Theatre (Factory)

Esme Massengill-16411 - web

Intricate puppets come to life in Ronnie Burkett’s The Daisy Theatre at Toronto’s Factory Theatre

I am going to review the show I saw, which was brilliant and delicious, but the show you see (when you wisely go and get tickets for this right away) will be different. The Daisy Theatre, which began as a commissioned work for the 2013 Luminato festival, is different every night at Factory Theatre. Ronnie Burkett and his cast of thirty-odd marionettes take the stage every evening in a cabaret-style show that changes according to whim and weather. Some numbers the audience gets to choose, some require the participation of audience members (many of them handsome young men, which I feel certain was a coincidence); politics, gossip, reviews and complaints all get mixed in. I left wanting to come back, to see it again, to see what changes, what other puppets and stories might take the stage.

This is both a solo performance and an ensemble piece. Solo in that Burkett makes the puppets, writes the stories, and then animates the puppets on stage. It’s an ensemble piece because the puppets come to life; watching the action on the lower stage, the puppets breathe, move, dance and sing. In addition to a rapid fire wit and a flair for the dramatic, Burkett has such an amazing vocal range that no two puppets share a voice; they just become the actors. Up on the bridge, he controls the flow and animation while we in the audience chortle and sigh by turns.

Near the end of the show I saw we met Schnitzel, a young fairy boy of a puppet, who says pointedly: “daisies can grow in the dark.” Of course it’s not Burkett’s style to draw direct attention to it, but Schnitzel is invoking the difficult history of resistance theatre in the statement. “Daisies” were the name of the underground, anti-fascist puppet theatres that burgeoned in secret in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, tasked jointly with skewering the regime and keeping spirits from sinking into the floor. Burkett upholds the tradition, making queer allegory about aging, death, abandonment, G-d, approval, bravery, the gay culture of bodies, and more while prancing incredibly beautiful, incredibly queer puppets across the stage. Show me a general belting out a showtune dressed in a lace frock, and I’ll love you forever.

Honestly, the only critical note I have is the room arrangement – the front of the room is set up like a cabaret, small tables with candles. The sight lines from the front tables are perfect, but from the third row it’s hard to see (I spent a certain amount of time doing subtle show-yoga in my attempt to see). If the front tables are taken up, I strongly recommend the raked seating.

Burkett is beguiling, as always. The show ran eight minutes past the longest possible runtime, and I could have happily stayed another hour. It’s a short run, but don’t miss this.

Details

  • The Daisy Theatre is playing until Feb 23 at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St)
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 9:30pm, Sundays at 8pm
  • Tickets are $30 and are available by phone at 416.504.9971 or online
  • Run-time: varies, between 90 minutes and two hours, no intermission

photo by Alejandro Santiago