Little Dickens has them
rolling in the aisles
Puppeteer Ronnie Burkett is back with a hilarious Christmas Carol spoof
By Byron Toben
Ronnie Burkett, marionette master and performer, has returned to the Centaur Theatre with his latest (and timely) production of Little Dickens, an irreverent but hilarious spoof of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. Originally scheduled to run until December 15, it has already been extended until December 21.
Burkett has a ton of local fans here, especially after his earlier hit The Daisy Theatre, reviewed by me in February 2018. The novella has been performed hundreds of times in different styles since its publication in 1843. Dickens himself read it publicly 127 times from 1849 until 1870 (the year of his death).
Here is a short list of the famous actors portraying the key figure of the miser Scrooge in the top ten versions of the 20th century:
1930s radio – Lionel Barrymore
1938 film – Reginald Owen
1951 film – Alistair Sim
1962 animation – Jim Backus
1971 film – Albert Finney
1974 film – George C. Scott
1988 film – Bill Murray
1992 film – Michael Caine
1999 film – Patrick Stewart
2009 film – Jim Carrey
Click to read a more expanded description of each of the above.
I doubt that any of the 20th century performers, let alone Dickens himself, could have imagined Burkett’s 21st century incarnation. Here, voiced by her creator (as are all of the dozens of hand-designed marionettes in the show) is recurrent creation Esme. Here her Scrooge is also a one-time actress who has become a talent agent. The other popular Daisy Theatre figure, the diminutive Schnitzel, becomes, of course, Tiny Tim.
Mr. Burkett voices and sings all the characters. Musical arrangements are by long-time collaborator John Alcorn.
Plenty of other wooden figures are stashed in the wings to become “alive” as ghosts of Marley, the Christmases past, present and future, the clerk Bob Cratchit and other various and sundry characters, such as an Alberta (Burkett’s home province) widow and twelve orchestra musicians.
I doubt that any of the 20th century performers, let alone Dickens himself, could have imagined Burkett’s 21st century incarnation.
Don’t sit in the front rows unless you want to be called up to the stage to interact with marionettes who like to stroke men’s facial stubble or be enlisted to turn cranks or display placards. Audience participation can also include singing along in one or two cheery carols.
Mr. Burkett claims that this show has no script so performances may vary from show to show depending on audience response. The night I saw it included a non-Christmas song about New Year’s Night so there is a jazzy improv feel to the whole.
The extension to December 21 fits in well as the Centaur’s long series of dark humour Urban Tales in that time slot, based on a French creation, has been discontinued. However, the equally popular Wild Side selection continues in its 23rd edition from January 7 to 18.
Little Dickens continues until December 21.
Images: courtesy of Centaur Theatre
Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been WestmountMag.ca’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.