Naughty No-Strings-Attached Holiday Fun
Reviewed by Eden Eidt
What do A Christmas Carol, shirtless audience members, and drunken puppets have in common? To get the answer, do yourself a favour and buy tickets for Little Dickens at the Grand Theatre’s Auburn Stage for what is sure to be a sold-out run.
This 16+ event (Sorry, kids! See Charlie and the Chocolate Factory instead!) is a welcome reprieve from the forced merriment and holiday blues that often accompany the season. Consisting of a “cast” of over fifty marionettes, The Daisy Theatre is run by Ronnie Burkett, who states that his fascination with puppets began at the age of seven. When he was fourteen, he took his passion on the road and began touring his acts. Flash forward to the present day and we now have Little Dickens: an entirely improvised and raunchy retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
The story stars Esmé Massengill, a boozy and aging actress, as she learns the true meaning of the holiday season through her encounters with other “actors” from The Daisy. Each plays a character from the classic Dickens story or puts on a festive musical interlude between scene changes, singing classic Christmas songs such as, “Santa Claus Got Stuck (In My Chimney)” and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”. Both the scenes and musical numbers are reminiscent of Christmas specials featured on Saturday Night Live, or a festive stop motion cartoon from childhood, which evokes the nostalgia of the season. Burkett demonstrates his mastery of vocal characterization and creates a unique voice for each always quirky, and often outrageous, member of The Daisy Theatre. His voices are distinct enough from each other that you almost forget it is only one actor lending his talents to the characters.
Remember how I mentioned the show is “no-strings-attached”? Well, I might have fibbed a little. Audience members are required to participate in the on-stage shenanigans—but, given the spirit of the show, I think Burkett would approve. The interactive aspect of the performance gave an intimate feel to the production and lent itself well to the improvised comedy. Little Dickens does not take itself too seriously—but this often is the key to great theatre. Even an unintended mishap that occurred during the performance (an unexpected beheading of Rosemary Focaccia, Esme’s rival, and the “Jacob Marley” character of the show) benefitted the fun, improvisational spark of the performance. It is a satirical, yet genuine, love-letter to Canada, with an abundance of references to London, Ontario and through characters like Edna Rural, an elderly woman from small-town Alberta.
Despite its raunchiness, the story manages to create some particularly touching moments that pull at the heartstrings of its audience members. As Schnitzel Tiny Tim describes his dream to fly, or his account of what Christmas has in store for him, he is met with a sympathetic “aww” from the crowd. Burkett’s ability to evoke both the comedic potential and sentimentality of the holidays is impressive—and all in under two hours!
Through its unfettered fun and Burkett’s astounding solo performance, Little Dickens deserves its spot as a contemporary classic and is sure to become a tradition of Canadian theatregoers’ Christmases past, present, and future!
Little Dickens continues with six shows a week on the Auburn Stage at the Grand Theatre, 471 Richmond Street, London, Ontario until December 9. Call the box office at (519) 672-8800 or visit www.grandtheatre.com for tickets.
Photo: Ronnie Burkett and the Daisy Theatre Cast. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
Created, Performed, and Designed by Ronnie Burkett
Grand Theatre (Auburn Stage), 471 Richmond Street, London, Ontario
November 27, 2023 to December 9, 2023
Reviewed by Eden Eidt