10 Days on Earth

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

14/03/2007 - 17/03/2007

Auckland Festival 2007

Production Details

Created by Ronnie Burkett
Dramaturge Iris Turcott
Marionette, costume and set design: Ronnie Burkett
Assistant designer: Dina Meschkuliet
Marionette construction: Dina Meschkuliet and team

Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes

10 Days on Earth
Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes
If you were alone, but didn’t know it, would you feel lonely?

Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes was established in 1986. Canada’s foremost artist in puppet theatre, Ronnie has been credited with creating some of the world’s most elaborate and provocative puppetry. Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes has stimulated an unprecedented adult audience for puppet theatre and continuous to perform to great critical and public acclaim on Canada’s major stages and as a guest company at international theatre festivals. Ronnie has received numerous awards in the Canadian theatre as a playwright, actor and designer for his work with Theatre of Marionettes.

For Auckland Festival, AK07 he presents a new production, 10 days on Earth. Darrel is a middle-aged mentally retarded man who lives with his mother. When she dies in her sleep, Darrel does not realise she is gone, and so, for ten days, he lives alone. Tandem to Darrel’s day to day routine are the adventures of his favorite children’s book characters, Honeydog and Little Burp. Their search for a home leads the dog and duck duo to an understanding of family, while Darrel’s ease in the world illustrates just how his mother has paved the path for him to be without her. Episodes from the past, like faded colour snapshots from a family album, illustrate this mother’s love for her son in all its honesty and fierce, unwavering will. Simple, tender, funny and unapologetic, 10 Days On Earth asks: If you were alone, but didn’t know it, would you feel lonely?

“10 Days On Earth — the latest work from marionette master Ronnie Burkett — is art of the highest order.” Toronto Sun (Toronto, Canada)

“Puppeteer Ronnie Burkett has set the bar so high that it’s hard even for him – let alone others – to match his best works.10 Days On Earth is full of his hugely expressive puppets, poignant and witty dialogue and powerful dramatic situations.” NOW Magazine (Canada)

“It’s theatre magic!” Globe and Mail

“The logistics are mind-boggling, the execution flawless…” Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, Canada)

The Auckland Festival, Ak07 season will precede seasons in Europe and the UK.

Venue:  Maidment Theatre, corner of Alfred and Princes Streets, Auckland City
  Wed 14 Mar – Sat 17 Mar
Tickets: $40 – $65
Times: 7:30pm

Performed by Ronnie Burkett

Theatre , Puppetry ,

Verbal, visual, sad, funny and thought-provoking

Review by Nik Smythe 16th Mar 2007

The first surprise in 10 Days on Earth is not the expected sort of surprise, if you’ll pardon the contradiction.  From a marionette performance from Canada, which to my prejudiced mind is as almost as good as French, I presumed to be astounded by enchanting visual delights, told in that global silent language that such classic master puppeteers as Phillipe Genty and Mummenschanz are famous for.  The old wooden corridor set and the lovingly crafted character puppets are indeed quietly spectacular in a visual sense, but after a short quiet opening minute the play begins as it means to go on – with virtually relentless high-speed verbosity.

While the dialogue is heavily spiced with humour, the play is essentially a touching human drama centred around Darrel, a middle-aged simpleton and his relationship with his neurotic mother.  His incessant tangental rambling would be much more annoying than it is were he not so harmless and genuine.  Darrel’s own existence is juxtaposed with chapters in the life of his favourite storybook character Honeydog, who "lived alone with very little and more than enough and preferred it that way," until he becomes an inadvertent parent to a freshly-hatched stray duckling, Little Burp. 

The story is ultimately more a study of human characters than a plot driven narrative with a twist.  There are twists to behold, but more in the psychology of the piece than the action.  It also has the audience (well, me anyway) questioning their (my) own judgementalism.  For instance, Darrel’s mother comes across as a highly strung neurotic nightmare, whereas his father who appears in two scenes, seems a perfectly likeable gent.  Yet it’s the mother who has raised, nurtured, loved and never left her intellectually challenged and incorrigible child.  Darrel snr, on the other hand, has lived in the same town as them since Darrel jr was born, and never bothered to meet his own son.  Mum appears tragically self-absorbed as she drunkenly expounds her moral high-ground, but she is in fact a deeply loving and committed mother, living entirely for her son apart from Friday nights when she makes herself up pretty and goes out for a couple of hours – and why shouldn’t she?

Probably my favourite character is Lloyd – ‘Lloyd God’, homeless old coot and self-proclaimed creator of the world which he is planning to wash his hands of soon since no-one ever hears what he’s trying to tell them because we’ve all got our heads stuck up either his arse or our own. 

Ronnie Burkett is one of those auters who does so much you’d swear he must have a Tardis to make it possible.  For this 2-hour piece alone he designed the marionettes (I count sixteen characters with between one and seven effigies of each), their costumes and the set, created the story and performed the entire play.  The motormouth script though, which after the initial shock and confusion I soon realised is quite brilliantly written, must be to a greater part thanks to the work of dramaturge Iris Turcott.  The puppet construction is credited to a crew of nine or so, headed by head puppet builder/assistant designer Dina Meschkuliet. 

Really, every member of the crew deserves acknowledgement for this truly moving and extremely human piece.  It occurred to me that this play could be performed to good effect with human actors, but could it touch the soul quite as profoundly as these wooden dolls do?  The theory is we can sympathise with a character portrayed by a real person, but by our suspension of disbelief with puppets we unwittingly contribute to our personal definition of each character.  Thus we are not merely relating to the characters, we are a part of them; responsible for them.  All subconsiously, of course.

To summarise:  Visual, yes – though understatedly so, and at no time is the spectacle extraneous to the story.  Sad, very – what is sadder than a child who’s lost their mother?  Funny, very – ranging from simple Darrel’s laughable naiveté to Lloyd’s Bill Hicks-like droll and misanthropic insight.  Thought provoking – I’ll let the word count of this review answer that one.

In conclusion, I can’t resist pointing out to Mr Burkett that while dealing most admirably with the problem of Dinky Rabbit’s head getting twisted around backwards, said Bunny was heard to exclaim "Thank god the critics came last night!"…Sorry about that Ronnie, none of us at theatreview could make the opening night.


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