The Pit, London EC2
Opened 19
April, 2007

10 Days On Earth follows Darrel, a middle-aged man with learning difficulties, in the period immediately after his mother's death (possibly by suicide). It is created and performed by one man. He is Ronnie Burkett, the former bad boy of Canadian puppetry. The show lacks the formal experimentation of some of Burkett's other recent work. It lasts 110 minutes without an interval. Every one of those preceding sentences is likely to make the heart sink (except the one about Canadian puppetry, which may instead elicit an incredulous giggle). So why can I not imagine an evening better spent in the theatre in London just now?

Partly it is the craft. There is the material craftsmanship: more than three dozen marionettes, individually carved and dressed, and a "set" which is a huge, broad pulpit with sliding panels and a roller-drum cyclorama. And there is Burkett's mastery of marionette technique: watch Lloyd, a street bum who thinks he is God, slowly and uncertainly get back on his feet after collapsing in the gutter, or Darrel's beloved storybook character Honeydog, a hound in a cranberry-coloured coat, making "grass angels" in one of the fantasy scenes which alternate with Darrel's ten days and flashbacks to his and his single mother's earlier lives... these are wonders of manipulation. Partly it is the purity of technique. Burkett's last show to visit Britain, Provenance in 2004, used a variety of kinds of puppetry, some of which required him to become more overtly an actor; here, everything is straightforward marionette work, yet I felt no sense of restriction or retrenchment.

Partly it is Burkett's touch as a writer. He always tackles topics of deepest human emotion – here, musing upon what it is to be alone and/or to be lonely – but does it with a phenomenal blend of thought, sensitivity and openness. In the past, I have felt some passages overwritten: here, not one iota. No doubt many would find the Honeydog scenes twee, their commentary upon Darrel's own life too obvious; that would be those folk's loss. In Darrel's and Honeydog's preferred expression, "simply simply" there is no current show that tells us more about being human than do these assemblages of clay and string.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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