Mar 30

Review - Billy Twinkle

by Wil Knoll · 0 comments

Billy Twinkle, Ronnie Burkett’s latest show running at ATP until April 11, is, as with all of his shows, a bit of an experience and spectacle. Team America may have done some amazing things for adult puppetry in the common eye, but the Emmy Award winning Burkett does so much more. He can really embody the “create new music for old instruments” philosophy of artistic creation.

But Burkett has created so much work that Billy Twinkle struggles to rise above previous work. It is an enjoyable show, polished and performed with passion.  The work is solid, with attention to detail, vibrant characters, and a man committed to pouring out everything he has pulling the strings. Billy Twinkle is worth the price of admission, but fans of his work may come out with more comparisons to Street of Blood or Tinka’s New Dress then complements.

Burkett is truly a master with his puppets. Each one is detailed, a caricature and honest painting at the same time. Billy Twinkle looks so much like the innocent small town boy. Sid, his mentor, reminds me of so many of my mentors who were possessed with The Bard’s words that it etched itself on their faces and eyes. Burkett does what he can to voice each of the characters with their own sound, so between his commitment and the audiences suspension of disbelief there are no complaints about a single man voicing the range of characters.

It’s the schooling that Burkett hands down with the craft that makes a Burkett show worth seeing, and Billy Twinkle is no different. It’s an absolute joy to watch him strip back the layers of the art in front of you. Towards the beginning of the show, he hints about how certain effects like moving jaws or blinking eyes can become gimmicky, and then shelves that idea telling almost the entirety of the show without using them. The few times a moving jaw is used, they are sequences that torment Billy Twinkle, to show how the gimmick can grate.

Then, perfectly built in, Billy Twinkle blinks. Once. And it’s gorgeous. I almost thought I was seeing things.

Economy. Specific choices. Proof that Burkett knows what he’s doing.

There are sequences where the simplest gesture from a hand puppet changes the emotion of a scene on a dime. And then Burkett pulls the hand puppet off, and shows us the most honest tool the puppeteer uses. His hand. Naked in the light, it reveals to us the simple mechanics of puppetry in a heartfelt goodbye.

Burkett does what he can to invite you into his world, and for the 80 minutes it’s a good trip. Some may take offence to how dirty or adult the content could be at time. My only concern was that the mid-life crisis that Twinkle has to come out on the other side of doesn’t interest me as much as Burkett’s previous discussions about freedom, beauty, and love.

So check it out. If you’ve never seen puppetry to this scale, it’s quite the experience. At first, you struggle to find meaning in the simple bobbing of marionettes on stage. But then the eye adjusts to the scale, and simple changes in posture read as well as they do in real life. And when Burkett goes meta on the audience, you’ll smile. And when Burkett pulls the strings as Billy Twinkle on Billy Twinkle who’s pulling the strings on another puppet within the show, you’ll smile again. And when Billy Twinkle blinks, you’ll feel it as much as you see it.

ADVICE: Know your bladder. Do not imbibe any liquids for 20 minutes before the show, and use the washroom as close to curtain as you can. It’s 80 minutes with no intermission and no re-admittance if you leave. And whatever you do, turn off your cell phone. You don’t want to end up being the spectacle.

Billy Twinkle: Requiem for a Golden Boy
At Alberta Theatre Projects
Runs through April 11, 2022
Martha Cohen Theatre

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