“How many of you have not seen The Daisy Theatre before?” Creator and performer Ronnie Burkett squints into the lights at The Cultch Historic Theatre, and about half the audience gives a warm applause.
“Now, how many of you have seen The Daisy Theatre before?” Before he finishes the sentence, the other half of the audience erupts. I’m in for something special at this performance, if this many Vancouverites have returned with this much enthusiasm to see it more than once.
The Daisy Theatre was co-commissioned by Luminato Festival, Toronto’s renowned multi-arts festival, and the Centre for the Art of Performance at University California Los Angeles. Decades before the premier of The Daisy Theatre in 2013, the award-winning Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes had been creating some of the most elaborate and provocative puppetry in the world.
These credits are good-to-knows, but the true value of any performance comes after the audience has been convinced to buy a ticket and show up; it’s how they feel in the moments after the lights fill the stage. I know instantly that I’m in good hands—literally—with Burkett.
Apparently The Daisy Theatre is different every night. This performance of the semi-improvised cabaret opens with a burlesque number. A 12-inch singer swings higher as the suggestive number soars. Burkett is visible within the frame of the stage set, belting the lyrics and maneuvering the marionette with both hands.
Both the marionettes and the set, designed by Burkett, are beautiful pieces of art. The puppet featured on the show poster is the aging, faded diva Esme Massengill. She’s exquisite with her strappy metallic dress, a feather boa fastened in the bends of her elbows, and sagging cylinder-shaped breasts. During her act she has a martini-loaded fall and her strings of pearls get caught in the dramatic inward curve of her nose. Burkett calls out the wardrobe malfunction through one of the character’s improvised lines and skillfully has the marionette shake the pearls off her face.
The attention to detail isn’t only in the marionettes and set. The exceptionally brilliant lines and lyrics go to some funny places but also some dark ones. The so-called orange man to the south, Donald Trump, makes appearances in the stories of several of the characters. The pink pussy hats of the Women’s March on Washington are a hilarious catalyst for the character Mrs. Edna Rural of Turnip Corners, Alberta. And the ultimate innocent, the beloved fairy without wings, Schnitzel, delivers an impassioned monologue about the necessity of art in these times.
The current subject matter combined with the influences of Nazi-era Czech puppeteers plays brilliantly. After all, The Daisy Theatre was named for the anti-fascist underground shows, “Daisies,” performed during the Nazi occupation, but the themes have gained renewed relevance with the rise of populist movements and leadership across Europe and North America.
Take a friend with you or make a friend amongst those seated beside you. You may have to nudge them in the ribs at one point in the performance, as directed by Esme, if she makes an appearance. Whatever way you go, don’t wait. The Daisy Theatre is no sleeper hit in this city.
The Daisy Theatre runs from March 21 until April 9 at the Cultch's Historic Theatre. Tickets can be found here. This show comes highly recommended! Seriously!