Little Dickens: The Daisy Theatre presents A Christmas Carol—is a long title for an excellent show

Little Dickens: The Daisy Theatre presents A Christmas Carol is playing at The Cultch

The character Schnitzel embodies the essential innocence of this wacky undertaking.

This is the sixth year running that Ronnie Burkett has done a Christmas show at The Cultch. Sometimes they’ve been blindingly good and sometimes they’ve been a little ragged around the edges—a bit repetitive or sloppy—but one thing never changes: in terms of sheer skill and charisma, Burkett is one of the most extraordinary performers you’ll ever see.

This year’s show, Little Dickens: The Daisy Theatre presents A Christmas Carol, was also last year’s show and, once again, Burkett was flying by the seat of his under-rehearsed pants on opening night—but I didn’t care. He was so upfront and so giddy about getting lost in the sequence sometimes—he was having such a good time and everything was so fresh and electric—that I just sat back and let the whole thing roll over me in waves of pleasure.

In Little Dickens, Burkett recycles the marionettes that he’s used in other productions to tell a very twisted version of the Dickens classic.

Scrooge becomes aging showgirl Esmé Massengill. Esmé’s white deco gown features gold beading that swirls around her drooping tits. And Scrooge’s merry employer Fezziwig is transformed into Dinah Dooyah, Esmé’s legless transvestite agent, whose hips never stop gyrating. But there’s innocence in the madness, too: the role of Tiny Tim is played by Schnitzel, my favourite of all of Burkett’s creations. Raspy-voiced little Schnitzel has horizontal ears, wears a green fairy skirt, and has a daisy growing out the top of his head. In Little Dickens, Schnitzel’s friends, the rocks, convince him that, if they can fly—by skipping across the surface of the water—he can fly too.

To a large extent, the narrative structure of A Christmas Carol is simply the tree upon which Burkett hangs lovely ornaments—songs, bits of shtick, and detailed characterizations. Amongst the characters, I’m especially fond of Edna Rural, the self-described “silly old biddy in a Sears housedress” from Turnip Corners, Alberta. It’s the detail of Edna’s movement that gets me—the way she bobbles her head when she talks, don’t you know, and the delicacy of her hand gestures.

Speaking of gestures, Burkett’s weird skill in making marionettes come to life is the source of a lot of droll hilarity. Just wait till you see Esmé trying to get comfortable on her chaise longue, for instance: her twitching, shifting legs area so freaking recognizable. And Burkett knows how to use the juxtaposition of scale—when Esmé, who’s maybe 18 inches tall, sidles up to an audience volunteer and gazes longingly into her eyes, for instance.

Speaking of volunteers, Burkett often does some variation on a bit in which he selects a handsome, usually straight or straight-appearing guy from the audience and proceeds to playfully objectify him. For me, this shtick is starting to feel old: it operates on a couple of increasingly worn-out assumptions, including the ideas that gay sexuality is so repressed and that there’s such a barrier between gay men and straight men that this kind of “correction” is necessary. The juice of the bit is that Burkett is being naughty and that the guy will be at least a little embarrassed.

But what the heck. These men are always lovely to look at and I’m sure they’re not traumatized. I can roll with it if they can.

I can even roll with it when Little Dickens takes a sudden turn into Christmas sentimentality as expressed through a Christian carol.

Little Dickens works because its eccentric heart is pure. And because the guy who’s pulling the strings is a master.

LITTLE DICKENS: THE DAISY THEATRE presents A CHRISTMAS CAROLCreated by Ronnie Burkett. Produced by Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes and presented by The Cultch. In The Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Tuesday, December 4.  Continues until December 22.Tickets.

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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