Ronnie Burkett’s latest, The Daisy Theatre, is the queerest show of his long career. “This is the campiest show I’ve ever done — just a queen with his puppets,” he says.
Thinking back to theatre school, Burkett remembers being told that because of his “gender, skin colour and physicality,” he would only ever be able to play certain roles. In response, he pursued his passion for puppets and started creating shows with all-marionette casts. “With puppets I can play anything I want: princesses, animals, princes, everything,” he says. “I’ve never had the impulse to do drag, but in a way that’s what I’m doing. I just get to keep my boy clothes on while I do it.”
In The Daisy Theatre, Burkett pulls all the strings, including doing all the voices of his approximately 30 characters. The show is unscripted, and his crew of eccentric puppets do whatever they feel like on a given night, from variety acts to impromptu monologues, as well as occasionally luring audience members up to the stage.
Some of his favourite characters are an aging showgirl with a feather boa who is “disgusting, drunken, fabulous, and every night we get a guy onstage to be her slave boy”; Mrs Edna Rural, who is “a farm widow, also a NeoCitran addict, and she’s sort of the regional Canadian woman that everyone knows somehow”; Jim Bunny, “a gay rabbit in a wrestling singlet”; and a British major-general who is “a certain old-school kind of guy, and he does a music-hall number called ‘There are Fairies at the Bottom of My Garden’ and then walks back in wearing his dead mother’s Edwardian costume and jewels.”
The Daisy Theatre is a much-needed break for Burkett from touring his other, more serious show, Penny Plain, about the end of the world. “My work lately has been dark, and I needed to do something ridiculous, dirty and funny,” he says.