Pinocchio – A Cautionary Tale:
On hearing that the National Theatre was staging the cautionary folktale Pinocchio as their Christmas production I was reminded of the sweetened 1940’s Disney film version of the story and my treasured wooden Pinocchio figure I had as a child and thought it might be one for the family.
Carlo Collodi wrote Pinocchio in 1881 and it first appeared in a cinematic adaptation 1911.
Brought to life on the National stage for the first time, who better to do it than a winning team of Dennis Kelly, who wrote the book for Matilda, and John Tiffany, who directed Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
My six-year-old grandson Sonny knew little of the story other than that Pinocchio’s nose grew when he lied (which in itself was quite a fascinating topic for debate). Entering the theatre to find nothing but a large tree trunk with a soft falling of snow was quite a mystery.
What unfolded was a magnificently produced tale with some very impressive puppetry and superb design by Bob Crowley, who is also responsible for the costume design and co-designed the remarkable puppets with puppet director Toby Olié,
The cleverly executed set provided the perfect backdrop for the masterly larger than life puppets and the pure magic of theatre in its retelling of this slightly sinister (and sometimes a little scary for the young) morality tale. We were treated to Pinocchio’s growing nose, an autonomous flickering blue flame representing the Blue Fairy, a gigantic whale swimming through dark waters in some truly extraordinary underwater scenes and fantastic feats with the characters floating in space with no hint of a wire in sight, which had Sonny open-mouthed in awe.
Giant wooden ladders and workbenches created a beautifully simple setting for Geppetto’s workshop; his enormous puppet had a face full of character and was handled by actor Mark Hadfield who touchingly plays him as a gentle and sympathetic figure.
The main villain of the piece is David Langham’s Fox who is portrayed with a certain panache as a fast-talking conman, and in keeping with the original narrative, he blindsides the naïve and gullible Pinocchio (played by the young Joe Idris-Robert), who longs to shed his wooden limbs and become a real boy. The Fox persuades him to join the travelling theatre show under the control of the evil Stromboli, also a giant rather grotesque puppet, and then to go to Pleasure Island “where naughty children have the best fun”.
Pinocchio’s quest to be just like everyone else and his persistent rejection of responsibility and desire for fun, constantly leads him astray, however morality kicks in as he battles with his conscience, which comes in the form of an OCD Jiminy Cricket, a charming a puppet voiced beautifully by Audrey Brissom, and with the kindly help of the Blue Fairy he is lead him back into his loving father’s arms.
The production has been granted the rights to the original Disney soundtrack, with all the old favourites including When You Wish Upon a Star, Give A Little Whistle and An Actors Life For Me adapted for the National by Martin Lowe. There was a particularly wonderful dance scene to the big number ‘I’ve Got No Strings’ with the young Pinocchio heading it up with some fabulous harlequin styled marionettes played deliciously by the ensemble.
But somehow in amongst all its jaw-dropping wizardry, I did feel its heart was somewhat missing, perhaps this is indicative of the narrative itself, but what this show has in bucket loads is impressive theatrical magic and plenty of toe-tapping musical numbers to put a smile on your face this Christmas.
Pinocchio is playing in the Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre until April 2018