Friday, 18 October 2002

Tinka's New Dress, Ronnie Burkett, Oct 18, 2002

 Ronnie Burkett  at Fairfax Studio  
until October 18- 27, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Puppets are not for kids. Never have marionettes been so wicked, moving and overtly political as in Ronnie Burkett's, Tinka's New Dress. In Burkett's adroit hands they are bawdy and achingly funny.

He is overwhelmingly talented. In this virtuoso solo performance he manipulates thirty-seven puppets and plays every character. He also designed set, costumes and marionettes and wrote this extraordinary piece of theatre.

Many elements make this an exceptional night in the theatre. It is the meeting of fine artistry and challenging content.

The plot revolves around Carl, a disenchanted left-wing puppeteer in a world ruled by a totalitarian government called The Common Good. It smacks of Orwell's 1984 or the Nazis.

Carl is a mouthpiece for Burkett's own socio-political views. Although Tinka's New Dress is set in non-specific time and place, the story is based on the Czech puppeteers of the Resistance.

It is a world of repression, censorship, fear of difference and of free speech. The play is a commentary on artists, activism and resistance.

Carl, with his costume-designer sister Tinka,  leaves his mentor and friend, Stephan, the elderly puppeteer, to perform his own show at an underground cabaret. His controversial critique of The Common Good leads to his arrest and demise.

It is unnerving to find oneself so moved and engaged by tiny wooden figures.

Burkett is visible throughout. He is charismatic, looming over his miniature creatures, manipulating strings, animating their uncannily human behaviour.

 Character appears in divers costumes. He blithely swings each from a horse on the central merry-go-round and magically breathes life into it.

He is totally absorbed in this world. His timing, like his craftsmanship, is impeccable.

He peoples the stage with credible, adorable and villainous characters: Morag, the gaspingly accurate drag queen, Mrs. Van Craig, Tinka,  Stephan,  Franz   and Schnitzel  and Madame Rodrigue,  the fat diva.

His ability to sustain a parade of diverse accents, genders and complex dialogues is awe-inspiring.

The puppet play within the play, The Franz and Schnitzel Show,  is bawdy outrageous and camp comedy. Burkett improvises on each night. Like a camp stand-up comic. He is hilarious.

He taunts the audience, makes us participate. He manipulates us as well as his little people.

He peppers the script with jibes at local identities. Kerryn Phelps copped a mention. Who knows who might get it next from this master manipulator.

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