Ronnie Burkett presents Forget Me Not. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
Ronnie Burkett presents Forget Me Not. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

With black-marked gallows humour, Forget Me Not is an experiential theatre piece built on a shifting trust. Puppeteer and performer Ronnie Burkett shove you down the rabbit hole of a fantastical history in Forget Me Not, a dark comedy interactive experience where the right move is often the wrong one.

From the outset, Burkett betrays the standard conventions of the audience contract. You will not stay in your seats, and you will participate as one other than yourself. He hands you a puppet – to play with, not to keep – and sets the story in motion.

Burkett stalks the room as both performer and puppet master, commanding the audience to action with a voice that moves muscles like strings. He weaves the tale of “Me,” an old woman with the power to write true love letters in a world that’s lost its words. She unbinds herself from convention and pushes the audience of “others,” your puppets, away even as she demands them to step closer.

The mix is a compelling push-pull of interest and aversion that culminates in a perfectly anticlimactic ending that leaves you feeling adrift in an overly lit sea of thoughts, feelings, and, most importantly, words.

Burkett is a raging chameleon, manipulating puppets and people with a derisive bark that shrouds an emotionally exhausted core. Toying with the audience’s expectations and uncertainty in their new role, Burkett is a rigid taskmaster that berates an audience member for attempting to intervene and then moments later casts judgement on them for doing nothing. It is simultaneously off-putting and intensely arresting – like watching a wicked teacher chastising the best student in class.

The design is minimal enough to be almost forgettable with a focus on flashlights that did not provide enough change in light levels to warrant their inclusion beyond giving a task to the audience – a move that felt starkly out of place in an otherwise carefully crafted show. Likewise, the overhead fluorescents belied the heavy sense of atmosphere that was built by John Alcorn’s music and tones in play.

Ultimately, Forget Me Not is a poetic turn down the rabbit hole and into the mind of Ronnie Burkett. If you like his work, see it. If you like the dark humour of things like Gormenghast, Punch and Judy, or the work of Edward Gorey, see it. But if you’re looking for a friendly puppet show to sit back and relax to, stay home. Ronnie Burkett’s song of loss and adventure is not calling to you. But if you are a kindred spirit, then his ceremony awaits.

Forget Me Not by Ronnie Burkett. Directed by Juliette Carrillo. Presented in partnership with The Cultch. On stage at a Secret Location until March 1. Visit thecultch.com for tickets and information.