10 Days on Earth

Ronnie Burkett
Theatre of Marionettes
Barbican Pit
(2007)

Production photo

This is a one man show with a cast of twelve characters. The characters, exquisitely expressive marionettes, owe their existence to their creator, Ronnie Burkett, a master puppeteer. He is up there visibly above the puppets pulling the strings and voicing the dialogues.

The unfolding drama grips the audience from the outset. The auditorium's lights are replaced by the appearance of a de-fleshed female dressed in an ivory-white nightgown matching her hair and body colour, slowly moving down the stairs, to the rhythm of a ticking clock. She gingerly walks back up the stairs places her slippers neatly on the wooden landing, reaching her final rest. She is a marionette, yet she evokes a sense of human reality. The main protagonist is her son Darrel, a middle-aged man with learning difficulties. For ten days he does not realise that his mother is dead.

He is oblivious to her physical absence as his leisure hours are engaged by characters from his favourite children's book Honeydog and Little Burp. The bond between Honeydog and the duckling Burp mirrors something of the emotional attachment between the young Darrel and his mother.

Burkett's does not only articulate the characters' movements, but in the course of the drama he gradually allows more of his facial expressions to become an integral part of the unfolding narrative. This is an effective ploy. At the beginning, Burkett's involvement is merely in manipulating the puppets and sounding the dialogues. That gives Darrel the space to manage on his own for a while.

When the play gets close to the dramatic climax of the ominous reality facing Darrel, Burkett's facial expressions become more visible. An illuminating glimpse of Burkett the actor is discernible. His extraordinary ability to project a range of voices to suit each of his twelve characters is particularly remarkable when the exchange between some of them is fast and furious.

The twelve marionettes' PaperClay heads each have a distinct human expression. They are all exquisitely dressed and distinct from one another. There is more individuality in these puppets than one may find in many a TV studio cast. There is humour and sadness in the reality created in Burkett's script and performance.

The effect of the masterly manipulation of the puppets, on occasion three at a time, with Burkett's myriad voices produces serious theatre and in an entertaining manner.

The production moves and stimulates. Burkett's creation deserves to be preserved and reproduced; the only question is whether out there another great master that can step into his shoes. This would be a very tall order, because he does everything - writes inspiring scripts, creates the marionettes, pulls the strings, provides convincing dialogues and gives memorable performances.

Rivka also interviewed Ronnie Burkett

"10 Days on Earth" is at the Contact Theatre, Manchester, on 11th/12th and 16th - 19th May.

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson