The Cultch, PuSh international Performing Arts Festival & Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad
Billy Twinkle: Requiem for a Golden Boy

Dates and Venue 20 January – 8 February 2009 @ 8PM (No performances 26 Jan & 2Feb) | Waterfront Theatre Granville Island

Creator Ronnie Burkett Technical Director Shanna Miller Costume Design Ronnie Burkett Lighting Kevin Humphrey Stage Management Lesley Humphrey

Reviewer John Jane

In seeing Ronnie Burkett’s Marionette Theatre presentation, Billy Twinkle: Requiem for a Golden Boy, one really has to put aside former preconceptions of puppet theatre. Burkett is a master puppeteer and a story-teller extraordinaire who continues to push technical and artistic boundaries with each new show.

This Lethbridge string-puller is certainly not a ventriloquist nor is he a mimic. Nonetheless, he gives character voices to the two dozen or so 20 inch high dolls from the perspective of a dramatist who imparts a distinctive personality to each of his meticulously crafted marionettes.

Billy, the title character is a middle-aged gay puppeteer, appropriately played by Burkett himself, lending an autobiographical element to the storyline. When Billy, who is already at a career crossroads is fired from his job as a cruise line entertainer, he gets pushed to the edge of a mid-life crisis.

As he stands on the ship’s deck mulling over his failures and contemplating an aqueous fate, he is visited by his dead former mentor, Sid Diamond in the form of a cantankerous hand puppet. The story then takes a Capra-esque turn as Sid compels Billy to re-enact life-effecting events through a group of bizarre characters.

This gives the puppet-meister a wonderful opportunity to introduce the audience to a spectacular wood and paper-maché cast. Aside from four incarnations of Billy Twinkle, ranging in age from fifteen to about fifty, we meet three different guises of Benji, Billy’s ludicrous, avant-garde contemporary who prefers speaking in ironies.

Burkett also likes to combine his affection for vaudeville with plain old razzle-dazzle. One of his marionettes is a burlesque artist with the improbable name of Rusty Knockers (Really!) who titillates the crowd by stripping down to her undies.

Burkett is at least partially visible throughout the performance. Dressed in a black tuxedo pants and a horizontal-striped sailor shirt, his presence ranges from transparent to front-and-centre, often exploding into outrageous action through his title character.

The set, also designed by Burkett, consists of an assembled structure mounted over the original stage floor in the form a ship’s prow. Complete with a pair of curved stairways, it’s both functional and elegant allowing the puppeteer ready access to the marionettes.

John Alcorn’s original score - particularly the melancholic Closing Theme and the rather quirky gypsy aria, Raisonette - fits the production so well, that it hardly gets noticed.

With close to two uninterrupted hours of razor-edged dialogue, a narrative style that doesn’t pull any punches and moments of irreverent black humour, Billy Twinkle is hardly a puppet show for the family – in fact, minors aren’t even allowed in the theatre for this production.

In Burkett’s evocative tale, we discover that through personal crisis we can learn that it’s possible to go back and finish what we started.

© 2009 John Jane