Tucked behind a fire hall in the heart of Outremont is the magical House of Puppets. It was opened in 2018 and houses workshops and performances in its tiny house. Once you have walked down the long alley to the charming building, you enter what is truly a puppet heaven. Inside, the theatre holds no more than fifty people in its diminutive space.
Ronnie Burkett’s pandemic project was to create a show which could be done in small spaces like bars and living rooms. Sitting in that theatre at Loony Bin, the intimacy of his intention came through. Burkett did the entire show using hand puppets. Some of the personae were familiar from his previous shows, and his self-depricating jokes with these were hilarious.
The plot of Loony Bin centres around the imminent loss of a caravan and the cow, where Madame Abattoir (who us also diva and therefore expected to sing the finale) has hidden her jewels so the bank will not be able to get hold of them. Burkett magically evokes an amazing cast of personae, and my favourites were Brenda the Hag and Dead Mona, who is convinced that the moon will seduce her and impregnate her. There is a poor toothless crocodile who inadvertently decapitated his boss, and many more.
When the haughty Madame Massengill, the diva of a previous show, arrives to scorn the use of hand puppets, dear Schnitzel, the angel (also of previous shows), argues for the intimacy of the hand puppets and even sings a final and ridiculously moving lullaby.
If you have never had the pleasure of experiencing a Ronnie Burkett show, you will have all your assumptions and ideas about puppets changed forever. Burkett has taken the simple hand puppet to new heights and it is impossible to believe that this is a one man show, so varied and magical are the characters. Burkett is a brilliant writer and performer and his work is always magical and moving.
Casteliers, the producers, said that they were privileged to have Burkett. We who were there, were blessed to be his audience. Loony Bin has a terribly short run, but if there is any way you can secure a ticket, do so immediately. And if not, even a visit to the House of Puppets is worth the trip into the heart of Outremont.