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Billy Twinkle. Photo: Trudie Lee
Billy Twinkle. Photo: Trudie Lee

Theatre review: "Billy Twinkle" at the NAC in Ottawa

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Billy Twinkle: Requiem for a Golden Boy runs in the Studio at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa through December 6. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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If you've never seen Ronnie Burkett's Theatre of Marionettes, don't miss this opportunity to see BILLY TWINKLE, Requiem for a Golden Boy running through December 6 in the Studio at the NAC.  Created and performed by Mr. Burkett, it tells the story of a middle-aged cruise ship puppeteer who is abruptly fired.  His dead mentor Sid appears as a hand puppet and forces Billy to re-examine his life in the form of a marionette show.

As Ronnie himself describes it, ". . . For anyone stuck in the middle . . . caught between our own past and future, this requiem for a golden boy shines a little light on the wonder of youth meeting the wisdom of age with a kick in the pants to finish what we started."

The 27 marionettes, their costumes and the set are all designed by Mr. Burkett, with excellent music and sound by John Alcorn and spiffy lighting by Kevin Humphrey.  The star drop, moon, curving divided staircase and mylar curtain are cleverly reminiscent of a cruise ship and amazingly functional.  The background music is great and the songs, especially the gypsy number, are hilarious.

Mr. Burkett's marionette creations are wonderful and varied, among them Rusty, a stripper who actually strips, a roller-skating bear, a pianist and voice teacher, young Billy and his parents, the octogenarian Bunny with an inflatable balloon in his pants, and even a miniature cow and chicken.  One of his creations has her own hand puppet, and at times Mr. Burkett is manipulating young Billy who is himself controlling a smaller marionette.  His vocal versatility is amazing, both speaking and singing.  Most of all, he makes us believe in the characters and their emotions.

BILLY TWINKLE is a terrific combination of humor and seriousness, from Biddy Bantam's drunken aria to Billy's mid-life cry from the heart, "I don't want to do this anymore!"  (I should mention that the subject matter is meant for an adult audience and no one under 14 will be admitted.)  But to use one of Billy's exclamations, Holy lonely goatherd, get up there and see it! 

On a scale of one to five the production of BILLY TWINKLE, Requiem for a Golden Boy, co-commissioned by various theatres in Canada, the UK and Australia including the NAC, gets five Royal Canadian Mounted Police, horses, pennants and all.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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