Master pupetteer Ronnie Burkett returns to Vancouver.
Master pupetteer Ronnie Burkett returns to Vancouver.

Created specifically for The Cultch by renowned puppeteer Ronnie Burkett, Little Dickens returns for another year for an adults-only twist on a holiday classic.

In Little Dickens, the marionettes of Burkett’s The Daisy Theatre takes on Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol in which the faded Daisy diva Esmé Massengill plays the role of miserly, drunken, bitter Esmé Scrooge.

In this Q&A with creator and puppeteer Ronnie Burkett, we find out more.

This interview has been edited.

For those who aren’t familiar with the show, what can they expect when they see Little Dickens?

It’s A Christmas Carol, loosely. Emphasis on loose. Enacted by the resident company of marionette players from The Daisy Theatre in an improv version of the story. I think people can expect some absolute silliness, and perhaps even the heart of the story.

Why did you choose to adapt A Christmas Carol?

Honestly, when I thought of the title, Little Dickens, I was sold. It made me giggle. It seemed perfect for puppets, my work, and a holiday show.

I have always loved the story. I have a fairly extensive library in my studio with more than 1,500 puppet books alone, and I have various versions of A Christmas Carol as well. It’s a story of redemption, which I love. Of change, of a hard heart softening. And that seems to be timeless. Necessary. Especially now. And honestly, it’s how I’m feeling these days; screw hip cynicism, I want kindness and love abounding.

Have you made any new puppets for this version, or is it the gang from The Daisy Theatre?

Vancouver audiences will get their first glimpse at the new gown designed specifically for this season's presentation Little Dickens.
Vancouver audiences will get their first glimpse of the new “redemption” gown to be worn by Esmé (above), designed specifically for this season’s presentation Little Dickens.

For last season’s first outing of the show, we made eight new marionettes. Two special versions of Esmé Massengill as Scrooge, two new Schnitzel puppets as Tiny Tim, some flashback characters of Esmé/Scrooge younger, and a ridiculous light up Christmas tree dress for Mrs. Edna Rural. That dress won as the showstopper costume, and I realized I had to bump up Esmé’s final “redemption” gown.

So, last year’s confection has been replaced by a crazy vintage applique and red ostrich feather showgirl Scrooge costume.

I can’t wait to show it to Vancouver audiences. This is a redeemed Scrooge with skin and legs, baby.

For anyone who saw the original production, they will remember a number of fun sing-alongs. How did you choose the songs?

John Alcorn and I combed through a lot of material, but for the audience involvement, it seemed natural to choose songs that were very well known. “Jingle Bells” for example.

So in his arrangements, John had a lot of fun adding a twist to the instrumentation. And when he found the relatively obscure “Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney” for the opening burlesque number, I was in heaven. I knew we were on our way.

Interestingly, the only song I absolutely insisted on was “In The Bleak Midwinter” as the closing number. No matter how lewd or silly the show might be, I wanted that touch of beauty as the kiss goodbye to the audience.

If an audience member comes back to see the show again this year, what would be different?

Well, since we never write anything down, chances are pretty good I’ll be making up a whole bunch of new stuff on the spot. I have the running order, but other than that, I suppose the whim of the moment may lead me.

What is your favourite part about visiting and working in Vancouver?

That’s easy. The audiences. Seriously. For so many years, the most amazing people have found their way to The Cultch to watch my puppet shows, be they dark and brooding or filthy and frothy. There’s a generosity of spirit there that I never take for granted. It’s like coming home. Hands down, the best audiences I’ve ever encountered, anywhere. And you can tell Toronto I said so.

Little Dickens: The Daisy Theatre Presents A Christmas Carol plays The Cultch’s Historic Theatre December 4-22. Visit thecultch.com for tickets and information.