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With potty-mouthed, clothes-stripping puppets, ‘Little Dickens’ is a risque and riotously hilarious twist on a classic Christmas tale

Master puppeteer Ronnie Burkett pulls the strings of a marionette in “Little Dickens,” his naughty and hilarious adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.”Master puppeteer Ronnie Burkett pulls the strings of a marionette in “Little Dickens,” his naughty and hilarious adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.”

Little Dickens

Created and carried out by Ronnie Burkett, authentic music by John Alcorn. Till Dec. 18 on the Berkeley Road Theatre, 26 Berkeley St. canadianstage.com or 416-368-3110

You are reading: With potty-mouthed, clothes-stripping puppets, ‘Little Dickens’ is a risque and riotously hilarious twist on a classic Christmas tale

This ain’t your “Christmas Carol” of Christmas previous, that’s for positive.

With potty-mouthed, clothes-stripping marionettes (plus at the very least one bare-chested viewers member, however we’ll get to that later), grasp puppeteer Ronnie Burkett’s “Little Dickens” is a naughty and riotously hilarious twist on the traditional Yuletide story. Assume “A Christmas Carol” meets “South Park” meets “The Muppets,” the place the foulest factor uttered onstage is greater than just some “bah, humbugs.”

Our miserly protagonist isn’t businessman Ebenezer Scrooge however, as a substitute, the swollen-headed, vaudeville-era diva Esme Massengill, whose journey to Christmases previous, current and future is provoked by her chilly rejection of a donation request for a charity supporting her fellow actors throughout the vacation season.

“Are there no dinner theatres” for them to behave in? she retorts together with her posh British accent, emphasizing each syllable with an smug staccato.

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Massengill, crafted by Burkett like the opposite doll-sized marionettes on this 90-minute manufacturing, is deliciously diva-ish, sauntering about with extreme make-up and jewels dangling from her neck. From the way in which she tucks her arms in entrance of her breasts to how she huffs and pouts together with her shoulders, she exudes a you-better-not-stand-in-my-spotlight-lest-your-career-will-be-over angle, like (insert title of your favorite diva right here plus their most diva-esque behavior as a result of yours actually is just too afraid to incorporate a real-life instance in concern of being despatched a libel discover, as divas and their attorneys typically do).

Burkett’s exacting precision as he manipulates Esme — slinking, sulking and sliding about — makes for some nice bodily comedy, whereas his burly baritone paired with the wiry body of Madame Massengill provides to the campy humour. However half the enjoyable can be watching Burkett work his magic, standing atop a raised platform behind the set, which is decked out with curtains, easy props and sliding scenic backdrops. All the pieces is manually managed and Burkett seemingly does all of it.

The opposite marionettes within the present — excess of a dozen, by my depend — are pulled from Burkett’s “The Daisy Theatre,” his unscripted sketch present with a forged of 40 characters. I’m positive there are tidbits in “Little Dickens” that reward those that have seen “The Daisy Theatre” and are already accustomed to Burkett’s troupe of puppets however, as somebody who’s a Daisy Theatre virgin, I can say watching that manufacturing will not be a prerequisite to having fun with this Christmastime spinoff.

Every character possesses a larger-than-life persona, with individualized mannerisms that so rapidly spotlight their traits. Tiny Tim walks with hunched shoulders and speaks with a diminutive high-pitched voice, which instantly elicited some “awwws” from the empathetic viewers at Wednesday’s opening night time efficiency.

The vary of characters and personalities onstage all make for some foolish enjoyable, although it typically feels the main focus is much less on the story at hand and extra on the vaudeville musical acts tucked between the narrative, with the manufacturing remodeling virtually right into a revolving-door showcase as every of the puppets makes their fleeting, although typically memorable, look.

There are a number of Christmas carol singalongs and viewers participation moments. You could be requested to decorate up or, as one good sport can attest, gown all the way down to play numerous roles within the present. (A warning: Burkett doesn’t entertain the entire raise-your-hand-to-participate factor. As soon as he locks eyes with you, it’s laborious to again out. So, you probably have seats within the entrance row or on the aisles, beware.)

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That is most likely additionally a great level within the overview to warn those that haven’t taken the trace that this isn’t a vacation present for youths. Don’t be fooled by the lovable title and posters: it’s an adults-only present with double entendres and sexual innuendos too quite a few to depend. Plus, I don’t assume your three-year-old must know the way a marionette might be manipulated to take off their garments with such sultry dexterity, as demonstrated on the high of the present. (I assumed I noticed a mom sneak in her younger youngster on opening night time; I can solely think about the splainin’ she was as much as later that night.)

A lot of the humour is broad and mischievous, with a number of meta-theatrical gags by which Burkett breaks the fourth wall and pokes enjoyable at his puppet theatre setup. The marionettes additionally appear to be self-aware about their stringed limb-itations, injecting puppet-themed comedy into the proceedings.

However as hilarious as every little thing is, the humour largely feels self-serving somewhat than in service of the story. Some gags, like Massengill discovering her highlight as she falls into the arms of the Ghost of Christmas But to Come (performed by one other good sport viewers member, wearing a black cloak of dying), drag on a bit too lengthy. Ultimately, all of it comes throughout as much less of an adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” than a well-conceived parody of it.

Possibly that’s the purpose. In spite of everything, to paraphrase a line that lands towards the tip of the manufacturing, we may all use some naughty vacation humour after the previous three years. However there’s additionally one thing heat and touching concerning the authentic “Christmas Carol” and its themes of giving and social justice.

There are hints of that woven into “Little Dickens,” however Massengill by no means actually goes on that redemptive journey that finally sees her out the opposite aspect a greater individual. After years of a lot cynicism, along with the humour we may additionally use a reminder that redemption is feasible. Or possibly I’m simply too Pollyanna.

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