the Magic of the Marionette

Running a few days late with this one, but what else is new?  And I’m still good…even theatrical genius madmen take part of the weekend off, and that seems a fairly apt description of one Ronnie Burkett.  The founder and creative force behind his company, Theatre of Marionettes, Ronnie B is what Jim Henson might have turned out to be if he’d had a few really memorable nightmares as a child.  Which, after having caught his new show PENNY PLAIN at the NAC this past Friday, turns out to be a very, very good  thing.

This is as normal as this show gets.

Taking place on a tiered stage, allowing Ronnie to command his marionette troupe from above, and set in an end-of-days time not nearly far enough from the world we all live in, the titular star of the show is kindly, blind Penny Plain.  I don’t want to give too much away about the rather daunting course of events…one of the first things that sprang to my mind when the show was over was ‘how the Hell do I review THIS??’…but it’s a dark, often hilarious, and occasionally tragic tale, with only the occasional glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.  Featuring a staggering collection of gorgeously handcrafted puppet players who turn out to be one of the most memorable cast of characters you’ll ever catch assembled on any stage…aside from Penny herself, there’s Geoffrey the dog, Jubilee Karloff and her mad mother Queenie, Tuppence, Melvin and Barbara…no, I won’t even TELL you their last names.  There’s lots more, including an almost LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN appearance by maybe the only puppeteer (fictional tho he may be) who might be Ronnie Burkett’s better.

The real star of the show is, of course, Ronnie himself, who provides all the movement and voices for the huge cast, aided by sweet lighting from Kevin Humphrey and a soundscape from John Alcorn.  And it’s true that, at times, there may seem to be TOO much going on in PENNY PLAIN…for a one-act with no intermission, there’s a bloody good amount of plot threads to keep track of, lemme tell ya, and they might not all work for you as well as some others.  But seeing this show was, for me, an utterly unforgettable experience, and if you’ve never seen a Burkett show before, then you probably very much NEED to see this one.  The level of artistry is an utter joy to behold, and Ronnie’s passion for the performance comes across in every nuanced gesture.  Maybe the highlight of the whole show for me was just one, simple, quiet moment where Penny sat sadly, patting a dog that wasn’t there. It was so freakin’ gorgeous I almost cried.

The show is NOT for kids, whatever the word ‘marionette’ may conjur up in your mind’s eye.  Leave the little ones at home and come prepared for a dark-ass journey into an amazingly unique theatre.  PENNY runs until April 1st, and if you need even more Ronni B, he’ll be hosting an evening at the 4th stage on Monday the 26th of March, which sounds highly tempting indeed.  Trust me, you’re gonna WANT more marionette after this show.  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

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