Radio review text: THE DAISY THEATRE and FENG YI TING

by Lynn on June 22, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following shows were reviewed on Friday, June 21, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM. THE DAISY THEATRE, at Luminato, The Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs until June 23. FENG YI TING at the MacMillan Theatre until June 22.

The host was Phil Taylor.


1)   Good Friday morning, it’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn, what’s up this week? 


Hi Phil. We’re finishing up this week with Luminato.  This is the 10 day festival that shines a light on Toronto with all sorts of cultural, magical, musical, literary, and theatrical events, with all sorts of other stuff thrown in.

First, I’m dealing with The Daisy Theatre brought to us by our own gifted artist, Ronnie Burkett and his Theatre of  Marionettes, and Feng Yi Ting, a Chinese opera directed by Atom Egoyan, another gifted film artist.


2). Ok Let’s start with the Daisy Theatre. What is it?


From the programme of Ronnie Burkett: “The Daisy Theatre” is an experiment in  returning puppetry to a more immediate, rough-and-tumble nightly entertainment, featuring a repertory company of diverse marionette characters in improve, variety numbers and audience interaction”

The Daisy Theatre of Ronnie Burkett echoes “the Daisy plays of Czech puppeteers during the Nazi occupation” in which pointed, political comment and criticism of a tyrannical regime came from beloved characters embodied in the puppets.

As Burkett notes, such puppeteers “were often run out of town for their observations.” Fortunately our own Ronnie Burkett has not been run out of town for his outspoken comments and observations via his masterful marionettes.


3) How does this play out?


Burkett has created a cast of characters who ‘act’ in short skits that deal with a different aspect of Toronto, but in a subtle way. A song at the top of the show says it all.  It’s about mischief that will take place and not to tell ‘your mother,’ ‘your brother’, ‘your priest.’  The music and lyrics are by John Alcorn who also sang.

There is Lilly and her brother Lovey, two old-time actors who have been trodding the boards in the hinterlands of Canada for years, and now finally, have hit the big time in Toronto with The Daisy Theatre and a real, live audience.  While both are ancient they feel that with proper make-up and lighting, they can get away with playing Romeo and Juliet.  Lovey in particular is always dressed properly, no matter what the part or playwright. He wears formal tails on top in case he’s cast in a Noël Coward play and tights and those funny billowy shorts in case Shakespeare comes his way.

There’s a bully clown and his side-kick named Schnitzel, a downtrodden fairie who laments that he has no wings. He does have a flower growing from his head which makes him distinctive in another way.

The most poignant skit involved Edna Rural, a widow transplanted from her farm in Saskatchewan to Parkdale in Toronto. Burkett has written probably one of the most sensitive descriptions of ‘home’ and the immigrant experience of not being apart of something, I’ve ever heard.  Beautiful and heartbreaking.

 This being a rough-and-tumble evening, it’s full of Burkett’s asides, pointed comments, often political with references to local politics—you can guess who.  It’s all quick, sharp and hilarious.

Burkett has asked ten Canadian playwrights to write a ten minute skit in which one or two will be performed each night of Luminato.

 I was lucky to see “Wedding Date” by Anusree Roy, a playwright with a distinctive voice that references Southeast Asia, but is also totally Canadian. A strict Asian father is grilling his totally Canadian daughter on the man she is going out with on her first date; checking to see if he comes from a good family, neighbourhood etc.  Because of the father’s particular accent Anusree Roy read the part of the father and Burkett read the part of the daughter.  Hilarious with all sorts of pre-conceptions and mind sets.

I went the next night and there was a quirky play by Morris Panych entitled “Why”, with Schnitzel as the star.  All this and John Alcorn sang. How perfect is that?


4) And is it the same show every night?


I’ve seen it twice and while the structure is the same, it is different each night. Because so much of it is improvised, though again within a framework, Burkett is different every night.

He’s impish, cutting, really pointed and political. And what he does with his marionettes has to be seen to be believed. They crawl on the floor, climb up drapery, sit on the edge of the stage, hunched over in despair…

 He’s brilliant and he’s never satisfied with just being brilliant.  He always tries to top that.


5) Moving on, what is Feng Yi Ting?


It’s a Chinese opera with surtitles—part of the Luminato Festival. Composed by Guo Wenjing who also did the libretto. And directed by Atom Egoyan who has been branching out into theatre and opera, as well as creating films.

 We have two very powerful men—a warlord and his godson—who rule the country by having control over the young emperor. Something must be done. So a plot is planned where by Diao Chan, a legendary beauty, will entice both men, charm them, and then coerce the godson to kill his warlord Godfather. She will then be credited for saving her country. She is very calculating in her method and the basic story is gripping.


6) What does it sound like?


It has that distinctive high piercing sound of Chinese music. It sounds like a high violin sound, or like a mournful Erhu, also a stringed instrument.

 The part of Diao Chan, the great beauty, is sung by Shen Tiemie. At first the sound is startling because it’s not the usual soprano sound of Western music. Never mind. Her singing is so expressive and so conveys the passion and yet coolness, it’s quite compelling.


7) Since Atom Egoyan is directing does he bring his cinematic eye to the production.


He does. He makes beautiful use of shadows and silhouette. A small figurine held by our heroine in her hand is then transposed in white light onto the back screen and enlarged until it is a great presence in our sight and in the opera. There are clever projections suggesting a shower of those figurines. The whole look of the production, from the set, to the costumes, to the evocative lighting, sets the tone and mood.

 The audience is reflected in a mirrored curve on the stage at the back as they file in. So that even the cretins who didn’t turn off their cell phones for the performance,  show up as little spots of light in the reflected darkness when the production is going on.

 The costumes are rich reds for her and very ornate silks for the godson. There are projections that are intricate and intriguing. They change quickly giving a sense of pace, even though every entrance and exit of a character is very slow. And they are arty.

 As we read the surtitles, letters forming the sentence float up and away from words. Impressive, although I don’t understand the reasoning for that effect. Sometimes the artiness gets in the way.


8) How so?


For example, usually the surtitles are above the singers and quite clear to read, well yeah (SUR title as in above). But sometimes they appear at the foot of the stage then rises up in front of the character thus making it difficult, if not impossible to read.

 There is a murder up stage and it’s impressive—a white backdrop and the departed slides down the wall, I guess trailing blood on his way. I say I guess, because those on my side of the theatre couldn’t see it, and that’s because of the way that Egoyan has staged it. He has the character of Diao Chan standing downstage, blocking our view of what is going on upstage.  Could she not be placed at the extreme stage left side of the stage so we could see it clearly? 

That murder is the culmination of all the angst of this opera. It’s what the main character has plotted to achieve. It makes no sense then to block the view of a large part of your audience.

However I do welcome the experience of seeing a different kind of theatre, in this case a modern Chinese opera of a legendary tale.  


Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.

The Daisy Theatre performs at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs, June 16-23 at 9:30 pm.

Feng Yi Ting plays at the MacMillan Theatre until tomorrow, June 22.

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