Once Upon A Time …
As part of the Sydney Festival FORGET ME NOT by brilliant Canadian maestro puppeteer Ronnie Burkett has currently inhabited Bay 8 at Carriageworks. The Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes has going for over 30 years now and the last Sydney Festival show was The Daisy Theatre in 2018.
FORGET ME NOT is set in a dystopian world , The New Now, where words are forbidden , and reading , writing or even possessing a bit of paper with words is now a secret act of defiance. And everyone is constantly under surveillance. For those determined to send or decipher a love letter, there is a way – but first they must undertake a dangerous journey to a secret site and find ‘She, The Keeper of the Lost Hand’, one of the few who still know how to read and write – for the ability to do this can now be punished by death.
It is a poignant ,romantic darkly subversive tale of love , loss and the power of words (‘ the pen is mightier than the sword’) . There is also the legend of the naming of the Forget -Me -Not flower.
The room is scattered with assorted chairs of various shapes and sizes arranged seemingly casually. Large chests ( boxes ) are spaced around the performance area . Above, there are fairy lights and handwritten letters of single pages flutter, suspended on wires.
Burkett sits looming near the record player while we enter, swathed and veiled , then rises dramatically to welcome us and inform us that we will become part of the show , participating by holding torches, changing the records to provide the soundtrack etc and moving around the space quite a bit. We are soon each given a hand puppet ( the ‘Other “ ) that is our alter-ego for the performance . During the show the audience forms human bridges, dances and interacts , follows processions and helps Burkett tell the story .
Burkett remains in control throughout , in a bravura performance . We see him busily haul himself in and out of a Punch and Judy tent costume for certain scenes , props and puppets appear out of the large storage chests , he straps on a large belt and hangs puppets from it and for example a tiny stage becomes a brightly coloured cake.
The show is at times told in flashback but also we jump fast forwards to a different time and sometimes it meanders sideways .The puppets are extraordinarily crafted , some exquisitely beautiful and delicate ( especially She and Willow ) .They draw us in to the story and relationships almost instantly .
The main plot is the story of ‘The King of Carnival ‘, Zacko Budaydos, a circus manager, his best friend Notso , and Willow the Tattooed Woman , the love of Zacko’s life. The story is mostly set in “The Before “ a now lost era when homosexuals , prostitutes and travelling performers used Polari , the mixed , blurred language of the underground. Willow is named after the Willow Pattern Chinese legend , another romantic tale.
Her tattooes are an embodiment of her love.
There is a great sense of ritual throughout the show , with readings of hidden letters , a foot washing ceremony, the procession already mentioned, a wedding etc.. as well as a great sense of community developed in the audience.
In a disturbing scene we the audience are asked to participate by an intimidating Authority Figure in beating up a major character – do we ? Can we just stand passively by and accept violence ?
While perhaps the show could do with a tiny bit of tweaking as times it is extremely loosely structured , it is beguiling , challenging and enchanting .
Running time 2 hours no interval.
FORGET ME NOT runs at Carriageworks as part of the Sydney Festival 15-26 January 2020.