Sunday, 17 December 2017

'Pinocchio' at the National Theatre

This years' Christmas show at the National Theatre is 'Pinocchio', the Disney version rather than sticking to the book. I've been looking forward to this one: will it have the Disney magic? how will his nose grow? what will the transformation from puppet to boy be like? It's not the easiest story to transfer to the stage but I thought it was done rather splendidly.

The first surprise was that the 'humans' in the story are actually the puppets. Heads and torso for the 'humans' were carried round by the actor playing the part plus helpers to move the arms and it worked really well. It also added another level of menace in some of the scenes, with giants looming over poor little Pinocchio.

You do, of course, already know the story. Geppetto is a toy-maker who makes a puppet boy as his son and Pinocchio has a series of adventures that help him to become a human boy. He's handily given a cricket as a conscience to help explain the story and, in this version, Jiminy is a lady puppet so doesn't have the top hat and spats I was expecting. The 'star fairy' - when not played by a human - is a flame that flits about the stage and I have no idea how they did that. I suspect it was magic.

Since the 'humans' are puppets, it makes it easier for Pinocchio to be played as a real life human dwarfed by the puppets he interacts with. The scene when Pinocchio is carved out of a tree trunk is a surprise I won't spoil here but it made me sit up and take notice. What I didn't understand was why Pinocchio had trousers and braces but no shirt? Of course he wears a shirt and should be given one immediately. The poor thing must've been freezing in this weather.

The only section I wasn't keen on were the Pleasure Island' scenes that seemed over-long and a bit obvious. It was nice to get different voices and sounds on stage by that point in the play - and nice to have the stage full of scenery and props that kept being moved and changed - but I felt those scenes could easily have been shortened without affecting the overall play.

I'm pleased they included the main songs from the film - 'When You Wish Upon A Star' and 'I've Got No Strings' - and I couldn't help grinning like a loon when they were sung (and I was singing along in my head), In that scene the 'puppets' (played by humans, of course) were dangling on the end of strings while Pinocchio danced around freely. I loved the patchwork costumes in these scenes which helped with the overall illusion. It was nice that both musical themes kept swirling back very now and then amongst the other music in the play.

Was it perfect Christmas viewing? No, not quite, but it was full of spectacle and surprises that keep even older children like me happy. I bought the programme but probably won't do the colouring in and other games it included.

Well done to Joe Idris-Roberts as Pinocchio, Audrey Brisson as Jiminy, Mark Hadfield as Geppetto and Annette McLaughlin as the Blue Fairy, with a special shout to David Langham as the evil Mr Fox who got his just desserts by cutting off his own tail. That's what happens to baddies, you know.

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