10 Days on Earth, the first Ronnie Burkett show I saw two years ago, was a revelation to me. It was the best piece of theatre I had seen in a long time, if not ever. Given that it was an “adult marionette” show, that was a surprise to me, but I was convinced that Burkett was a master storyteller and genius at his craft.
As such, I had really high expectations going into his latest production, Billy Twinkle: Requiem for a Golden Boy. From the website:
“Billy Twinkle is a middle-aged cruise ship puppeteer who dazzles audiences with his Stars in Miniature marionette niteclub act. His saucy burlesque stripper Rusty Knockers titillates the tourists, octogenarian Murray Spiegelmann invokes sidesplitting laughter with the inflatable balloon in his pants, Bumblebear juggles and roller-skates and steals the hearts of every audience, and Biddy Bantam Brewster brings a bit of highbrow hilarity to the high seas with her drunken aria. Billy is the best in the business and on top of the world as he floats along through life.
“Until he is fired by the cruise line. Standing at the edge of the ship contemplating a watery demise, Billy is abruptly called back to reality when his dead mentor Sid Diamond appears as a hand puppet. Sid literally will not leave his side, and forces Billy to re-enact his life as a puppet show in order to remember and rekindle the passion Billy once had for puppets, people and the dream of a life that sparkles.”
I was hoping the story would be better than it read in the preview, but it wasn’t. I didn’t buy the talking handpuppet bit, which was essentially the lynchpin to the entire play. Some of the flashback sequences also seemed unnecessary, dragging out the sans-intermission production to a lengthy hour and forty-five minutes. That said, there were some amusing comedic bits, including Doreen Gray’s Jesus rap, and Sid’s final “performance” as a sad, deranged old man. I also liked the fact that the audience and Billy both realized, at the same point in the play, how important Sid actually was to Billy, and because of this, I wished we could have seen more of their interaction while Sid was still alive.
What lacked in the story was made up somewhat by Burkett’s continued mastery of the puppet craft. He flexed his technical muscle not only with the stripping marionette (it was less dirty and cooler than it sounds), but also being able to control a marionette who was controlling an even smaller marionette.
In the end, I found that the biggest impediment to my enjoyment of the play was Burkett’s physical presence as Billy Twinkle. Unlike 10 Days on Earth, I wasn’t able to immerse myself in the world of puppetry, and for that reason, I think some of the marionette magic was lost.
Even with this overall disappointment, I will not hesitate to see what Burkett cooks up for us the next time he is in town. He is definitely a playwright and performer I will look forward to seeing whenever he returns!