Forget Me Not
FORGET ME NOT (RONNIE BURKETT THEATRE OF MARIONETTES, SYDNEY FESTIVAL)
Even while queuing to enter 'Forget Me Not' we knew we were in for something different. This message was reinforced as we were repeatedly told that once the doors were closed we could not leave. Puppet Maestro Ronnie Burkett’s world-renowned reputation for conjuring a phantasmagorical mix of surreal characters, deep pathos and bawdy humour was my only insight that preceded the night’s performance.
Once inside the eclectically furnished room – tables, leather bound books, comfy chairs, pages hanging from the ceiling, an old record-player against a wall – you are transported to a time passed. …. Soon ‘She’ arrives, a hooded figure with shadowed face who introduces herself as the keeper of the word and the initiator of this ceremony.
We discover that we are in a strange dystopia, now not sure if this is past or future, Our new world is one where the written and read word is forbidden on fear of punishment of death. The first vinyl record is placed on the turn-style, a lush and ambient sound composed by John Alcorn and our story begins.
We are privy to an almost Shakespearean tale of love, loss and brutality, interspersed by glimmers of hope and joy. By this time we all have our ‘others’ on hand, quite literally in the form of the strangest little hand puppets who accompany us through the ceremony.
We are made privy to how the parents of ‘She’ first met, the brutality of her mother’s violent death at the moment of ‘She’s birth, her idyllic upbringing until her father leaves her in a convent. And then, her growing reputation as the writer of love letters, a gift gained because of her own broken heart. ‘She’s’ ability to write words of love is now a crime; dangerous and beautiful in a society where such things as words are banned.
Along the way, as audience we participate by lighting the path of ‘She’ with hand torches, experience a foot washing ceremony that is almost erotic, see one young man (puppet) renounce the love of another, recoil as an animal is beaten to death and recoil again when we realise that the interactivity of the show would have allowed us to intervene … all while being seduced by the most remarkable meditations on love and pain, both disturbing and uplifting.
This is the only one person show (not counting a cast of a hundred of puppets) where the star disappears at night’s end, not even acknowledging his applause. It is like we have watched some sort of multi-phrenic psycho-drama for – as the puppeteer had earlier explained – all his characters, "all of the ‘others’ are ‘me’".
An extraordinary performer and performance.