Ronnie Burkett, Billy Twinkle, Requiem for a Golden Boy

Review in Issue 21-2 | Summer 2009

It’s difficult to watch any Ronnie Burkett performance without the insistent awareness you are witnessing something remarkable. Burkett has created himself as the master of a rather esoteric craft: whilst puppetry has been vigorously reinventing itself in British theatre of late, the art of marionetting remains somewhat arcane. Add to this the sheer scale of Burkett’s production: rows of ornate crafted figures hang at the back of his stage; his score (though under-produced) and set are ambitious; even the meaty length of his performance far exceeds the norm.

But despite these undeniably special features, perhaps because of them, the content must sustain an equal weight to the form. For me in this, the piece felt deficient. Using the frame of the mid-life crisis to prompt biographical storytelling from our eponymous protagonist – a middle aged cruise ship puppeteer (encouraged by his Marley-like sidekick, the rabbit-eared ghost of his old mentor) – the autobiographical shadow threw too much focus on Burkett’s own performance.

Burkett is a master vocalist and superb manipulator. Many of the piece’s most successful sequences were the cabaret turns showcasing his wonderfully designed and operated marionettes (including stock classics such as the drunken opera singer, superlatively rendered). His writing, particularly in moments of smaller intimate decision making, and in arch comedy, is first-rate. However, the choice to play the lead himself, often in mortal combat with his glove puppet mentor, and sometimes performing Shakespearian soliloquy, felt far less compelling and refined than the puppet performances surrounding him, thus undermining the production’s better qualities.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Apr 2009

This article in the magazine

Issue 21-2
p. 31