Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes, Provenance

Review in Issue 16-2 | Summer 2004

It's a stunning set – wooden cabinets and counter painted with Art Nouveau swirls are lit with a changing palette of Maxfield Parrish colours. In pride of place is 'Tender', a painting of a beautiful young man – a naked swan in green stockings, tethered to a tree. The cast of marionettes includes the blue-stocking Pity Bean who is obsessed with the painting and its subject, brothel madam Leda, who we encounter at different stages in her life, and Vespa Poopermann, cross-dressing keeper of the brothel. Camp? You bet your rhinestone glasses.

Burkett is an acknowledged master of adult puppetry but also a superb physical performer. Even without the puppets, he could hold his own against any solo performer storyteller. He narrates, he gives voice to the characters with astonishing instant transformations – and he does things with marionettes you really wouldn't believe. They are totally, eerily alive – sitting on his extended leg roller-skating, bickering, ballroom dancing. The story circles around the ongoing intrigue of the provenance of the painting. There's romantic obsession, bad sex, childhood misery in the locker-room, two rapes, a Wizard of Oz style discovery about getting what you want (you have it all along) and some very nice frocks. Like filmmaker Almodovar, Burkett plays with emotional response, throwing the superficial and the life-shatteringly serious together with gay abandon – and gets away with it. 120 mins – no interval and no one can return if they leave. There are no half-measures – you are with him or you go. I came out bruised and exhausted – but, you know, that's life, sex and art for you.

Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Apr 2004

This article in the magazine

Issue 16-2
p. 25