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Review From The House: BILLY TWINKLE Requiem for a Golden Boy

Photo by Trudie LeeBILLY TWINKLE Requiem for a Golden Boy
Written, created and performed By Ronnie Burkett
Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes
Waterfront Theatre
Jan 20 to Feb 8, 2009

Photos by Trudie Lee

Vancouver, BC: As part of my obsessive nature, a trait I am still unsuccessfully trying to remedy, I tend to arrive at appointments,  airports and of course  theatre venues,  far earlier than is necessary. Usually when I get to the Waterfront Theatre for a show, I can mosey into the bar area and stand around chatting to the staff or an occasional fellow early arriver for quite a while before the place starts filling up. But not lthis time. A good forty minutes before the start time for Ronnie Burkett's show,  the lineup to get into the theatre was snaking around the bar area, doubling and redoubling. Hmmm. Interesting because the Waterfront is one of those places where sightlines are generally good even for the vertically challenged as the rows rise quite steeply and one gets a great view from most seats.  But one does not  need  a long lineup and  packed houses to affirm Burkett's reputation as a superbly creative and innovative entertainer - a Golden Boy at the top of his game. Which adds a special piquancy to this new show. 

Billy Twinkle is a middle aged puppeteer who has made his career entertaining cruise ship audiences with his Stars in Miniature marionettes. Until faced with one annoying audience member too many, he loses his cool - and his job. At that moment his life and career all seems futile. He doesn't even love his puppets any more. Standing at the cruise ship railing, Billy is just about to end it all by plumetting off the deck, when his dead mentor Sid Diamond materializes in the form of a hand puppet.  With Sid's prodding, Billy relives the events that brought him to this point, from his early fascination with puppets as a young small town boy  to his choice to make a lifetime career of marionette theatre.

llBurkett  immediately engages his audience in Billy's Stars in Miniature show by bringing out Rusty, who performs a raunchy striptease.  We also meet the cute Bumblebear and my favorite, Biddy Brewster, the high society lady who makes you listen to her singing - for your supper! Then as we meet the 15 year old Billy learning to master the art of puppetry, we watch Burkett animating Billy animating Billy's characters. Fascinating.

But there is always much more to focus on in Burkett's work than the creative artistry of his designs and the physical aspects of voice and movement. As we watch Billy's introduction to performance, his encounters at an annual puppeteering conference, his recruitment into the cruise ship life, issues of  mentorship, career and the inevitable mid-life questioning of one's life choices underlie what we see on stage. And you wonder how much of what is revealed about the aspirations and relationships of the young  boy who leaves Moose Jaw to cruise the world, comes from the puppet master's reality.

As I drove home afterwards I found myself thinking about my other life; of some of the students I have been privileged to mentor and of the  varied nature of their own successes. One of the hardest things to do in that role, and I guess more generally as a parent, is to cut the string of one's  own apirations for mentee or child,  let  them soar into their own stratospheres, admire and applaud their trajectories and be there if needed to cushion their falls.  

This show continues at the Waterfront until next Sunday. You don't want to miss it.  No matter how much BILLY TWINKLE may or may not reflect Burkett's introspective view of his own career as puppeteer extraordinare it is apparent from the warmth of his reception and the almost reverential tone with which his audiences speak of him, that it will be a long time before a requiem will be needed for this Theatre of Marionettes Golden Boy.