Thursday, 3 September 2009

Billy Twinkle – Requiem for a Golden Boy, by Ronnie Burkett

Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, Sept 3 to 20, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If you hate puppets, go see Ronnie Burkett. He could cure you. Burkett’s marionettes are raunchy, funny, poignant, modern nut cases – and so, it seems, is he. Like his previous shows, Billy Twinkle – Requiem for a Golden Boy, is designed for adults.

The puppet cast includes a titillating, tiny stripper called Rusty (How do you peel clothes off a marionette?), Biddy Bantam Brewster, a drunken, singing, society dame, and the well-meaning but talentless Doreen Gray who tours an excruciating, Christian hand-puppet act.

The content of Billy Twinkle may be less challenging and the narrative less mesmerising than the earlier shows, but Burkett’s parade of tiny people and his manipulation techniques remain exceptional. He breathes life into his characters, conjuring a world of tiny people who weep and laugh, taunt and sigh, harangue and dream.

Burkett creates the entire production including the script and set design. He may be the only human on stage in full view and full man-size, but he is never alone while he manipulates characters and provides a multitude of voices.

He plays the older version of the central character, Billy, a puppeteer who is bored to sobs with his glitzy, cheeky show on a cheesy cruise ship. Just before Billy leaps to his watery grave, the not-quite-dead spirit of Billy’s mentor, Sid Diamond, appears to haunt and taunt Billy, forcing him to relive his crazy life as a puppeteer.

Billy Twinkle does not transport us into another magical world. Rather it replicates the world of a middle-aged man in a mid-life crisis who must seek solace and help from the older man who taught him everything he knows. Can we assume that Burkett had a crisis of faith about his chosen profession and overcame it by making a show about a character who started to resent his art and his audience to the point of despair?

Burkett has a wicked and camp sense of humour that permeates not only his dialogue but that of the parade of puppets who share the stage. Within this story, Billy snipes at arrogant, precious or tacky show people and audience members who annoy him. He parodies Billy’s Canadian small town parents, the geeks who love puppets and the child Billy who wants to dress up in sparkly costumes and be a puppeteer.

The show – which opened in Geelong – rushes headlong through Billy’s colourful and sometimes mad life until he reaches a moment of realisation and acceptance. Did Ronnie Burkett reach some sort of peace too?

By Kate Herbert

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