Article Title:Theatre:
Category:Performance
Author or Credit:Larry Jenkins
Published on:19th March 2007 - 12:00 pm
Published by:GayNZ.com
Story ID:1637
Text:‘10 Days on Earth' Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes At Auckland's Maidment Theatre AK07 Festival The landscape of the mind of Ronnie Burkett is filled with childish wonder or else he probably wouldn't be a puppeteer. “10 Days on Earth” is the tenth production from his company of strung-up woodenheads since its founding in 1986 and is on an international tour of Vienna, London, Manchester, Sydney and Auckland as one of the most heralded attractions in AK07, the Auckland Festival of the Arts. He has certainly dedicated his efforts to “…returning the puppet to the legitimate stage in theatre for adults,” an audience well established until the nineteenth century (Mozart's opera “Cosi fan tutte” was conceived for the puppet theatre of Vienna's infamous Dr. Mesmer; and who goes to Salzburg now without taking in the famous Salzburg Marionette Theatre, established to perform adult shows for adult audiences?) Marionettes are the aristocrats of the puppet world. Their strings allow sophisticated manipulation by skilled masters, and Ronnie Burkett is a master, never doubt that. He not only designs and crafts his “children” but he is a one-man show in this play, operating all the marionettes and providing the voices “live.” It's a charismatic performance, a virtuoso exercise. So why was I glad when it was over? The story of Darrel, possibly autistic, certainly intellectually impaired, who lives alone, totally dependent on his mother except for his meagre job as a shoe shine boy, who, when she dies, is unable, for ten days, to go into her bedroom to find out why she doesn't come out (his mother has told him that when her bedroom door is closed he's not to enter under any circumstances) and whose main contacts outside the narrow confines of his decaying house are a looney named Lloyd, an older equally intellectually-challenged adult woman, and a female Salvation Army Officer he calls Ice Cream, left me oddly untouched. The parallel story, of Darrel's favourite book characters Honey Dog and Little Burp and their search for a home, allows some comic (?) relief. Part of the barrier to any empathy one might feel for Darrel is Burkett himself. Operating from his deus ex machina above, he never allows us to forget he is there. His voice is always too loud or too soft, he has long hair that sweeps dramatically over his face and gets theatrically swept back when a hand is free. He often leans out so far in bringing his characters downstage that he looks in danger of falling off his god machine and breaking his neck. It's a performance full of risks, but it's as much about him as it is the puppets, and it gets irritating after a while because it never allows the illusion to take hold. That aside, the technical side of the show is astounding. The very human movements he is able to affect in these dolls often take one's breath away. The lunatic ravings of Lloyd, convinced he is God, his puppet form jerking, jumping, humping and making obscene gestures as he rails at his “creations” made me wonder if he is a metaphor for the creative process that Burkett goes through. A temperament that could write such a piece and be in godlike control of the characters from conception to execution may be subject to the foul-mouthed rages that the delightful Lloyd unleashes about every five minutes while he is onstage. Whatever Burkett may be like as a person, I doubt he's at all like you and me. At best this is a disturbing evening, not the chocolate-box experience we've been conditioned to expect. More power to Burkett in his crusade, it has and will give the theatre a new genre based on a very ancient tradition, and that's what makes art grow best. Larry Jenkins - 19th March 2007    
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