Forget Me Not | Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes

Image by Dahlia Katz

The guests have gathered and are awaiting her arrival but before she can appear, there is a story to be told about how the past snags on the present and the silly business of love tangles itself through time. Forget Me Not is a layered, interactive magic world almost too elaborate to fully picture or put into words.

Once the audience has arrived and properly seated itself around the room of eclectic benches and chairs, Ronnie Burkett as the bard, the fool, the narrator, the puppeteer, and the star begins the proceedings. At once a collection of interlaced stories of love, the production is also an experience complete with a series of ceremonies the audience must undergo before the night is out. The first involves meeting your Other, a hand-puppet presented to you as your companion and alternate as you wander through the various worlds of Burkett’s creation.

She, who is also me, who is also Burkett, is the central figure of the show appearing as a myriad of puppet and marionette forms. She is the daughter of a bear and a bit of a witch. She has devoted herself to the words of love, composing love letters for the romantically affected. The stories told in Forget Me Not are her stories but also not just hers and in some ways it’s unclear whether any of the audience would be there without her.

The production feels at once organic, build out of the energy of the room, and carefully crafted with intricate stylisation and attention to detail. From the hand-puppet characters of Zacko Potatoes, Nutso Bad, and the King of the Birds to the Others, who are all unique and individual, to the central She, the puppets are beautifully designed by Burkett and constructed by the team at the 100 Handpuppets Project. Other design elements included music, composed by John Alcorn and played on records administered by audience maestros, and striking costuming from Kim Crossley. The garb in which Burkett begins the story and bids his adieu is part warlock and part fairy godmother, casting the perfect twisted tone for Burkett’s role.

Burkett as narrator is at times crass and distracted but at others frantic and excited, lending his enthusiasm and anticipation easily to the audience. The many characters that come from him are treated with a consideration that substantiates their presence and eludes to a long history of interaction and play between puppet and puppeteer. Their stories are endearing and tragic, made more emotional by their reliance on another to breathe life into their forms.

The person who enters the space of Forget Me Not isn’t necessarily the person you’ll find there as Burkett and his characters encourage play and experimentation; opening up dormant lines of communication and reconnecting with a spiritual understanding of love. It’s an overwhelming magical theatrical experience unlike anything else.

Forget Me Not is running at Carriageworks from January 14th – 26th as part of Sydney Festival

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