Review: Puppet regime in a political vacuum


SOOTY AS a secret subversive? Pinky and Perky as fifth columnists? No, politics and puppets (at least of the non-human kind) tend to have a separate existence in this country. By contrast, Ronnie Burkett - a Canadian performer who manipulates and speaks the dialogue for some 37 exquisitely fashioned marionettes in Tinka's New Dress - harks back to the tradition of underground, surreptitiously patriotic shows put on by Czech puppeteers during the Nazi occupation of their homeland.

Staged on a magical fairground carousel set, the piece loses some of the sting it might have had by swapping this precise historical context for a more generalised and slackly imagined one of Burkett's own devising. The audience is bombarded, on arrival at The Pit, with eerily recorded messages, relayed mantra-like by a brainwashing voice, from "The Common Good" - a totalitarian regime intent on eliminating all non-conformist elements in society. It's in the cabaret of a ghetto drag club that the idealistic young puppeteer, Carl, begins to ply his dangerously oppositional trade. This setting pushes the story to awkward extremes of bitchy, hardbitten camp and schmaltzy nobility. We are asked, for example, to believe that Morag, the resident screaming drag queen and specialist in "The Great Broads of the Old Testament" ("I hugely admired your portrayal of the burning bush") falls in love with Carl's sister, Tinka. Before he and the majority of good people are liquidated, Morag manages to sow the seeds of hope in her womb ("Tinka, it's so dark", "Yes, but things are growing...") to which the only response is "puh-leeeeze".

What makes the show intermittently hilarious are the inset puppet routines involving Franz, a priapic professor-like clown; his cute little bald, flappy-eared sidekick Schnitzel and a redoubtable diva, Madame Roderigue whose mountainous bosoms jerk up and down with the knowing smuttiness of Groucho Marx's eyebrows. These sequences demonstrate Burkett's quickness on the uptake with audience response and his ability to weave in topical material. Schnitzel has a tiny teddy called Tony Bear who, like his near- namesake, goes "Grrr Grrr" a lot in his desire to be thought a very important and frightening creature. And there are some good laughs at the supposed weirdo marginality of The Pit (Madame Roderigue would much rather be in a West End musical "with a battery pack in my ass and a mike in my hair") and through self-referential puppet jokes when the characters talk to us confidentially as if we were all marionettes together ("My earring just got stuck on my wire. I hate it when that happens, don't you?").

The "real" outer world of the play is, however, painted with such a broad brush that you can't estimate the skill or otherwise of Carl's political puppeteering, while you can't help but feel, in the circumstances, the grating difference between the difficulty of performing satire in a climate of totalitarian repression and the ease and impunity with which Burkett can take pot shots at Blair here. In terms of hard politics, it's not so much Tinka's Dress as a touch of the Emperor's New Clothes.

To 10 July, 0171-638 8891

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk