Pros: Great songs, great puppets and the great John Savournin
Cons: Weak topical gags and occasionally unclear lyrics.
At this point I would normally say something about the storyline. But the strength of this show doesn’t really lie in a gripping narrative, so I’ll say only that it involves Pinocchio, a cabaret snail, a carpet-bagger fox, a Spanish Wish Chicken, Jiminy Cricket, a dogfish named Donald and the villainous cricket, El Tabasco.
The strength of this show lies in its abundant silliness, its songs and its performers’ commitment to tomfoolery. Nichola Jolley, for example, is an elegant looking woman who spends 11 months of the year singing opera in professional productions all over the place. Yet, she spent last December dressed as a frog in a cycle helmet for Charles Court Opera, and this year she is heavily feathered, yellow-stockinged and cross-gartered, to play a Spanish-gabbling chicken whose catchphrase is a manic ‘pcaaaaw!’ Also playing a heavily accented Hispanic is the show’s writer and director John Savournin who is a natural, spontaneous and utterly watchable comic performer. This vibrant and energetic production becomes just that little bit more vibrant and energetic every time Savournin appears on stage.
The other star of the show is off-stage. David Eaton is responsible for reworking songs as varied as Spice Up Your Life, Bat Out Of Hell and I’m So Excited with daft but clever new lyrics and arrangements that showcase the vocal talents of all six singers. The ensemble pieces in the second half work better than some of the solos in the first half, where the comical lyrics are occasionally hard to make out. A lugubrious version of Eleanor Rigby is a particular stand out, with mournful backing singers appearing from behind a curtain to share in Jiminy’s self-pity.
Joshua da Costa winningly plays the ‘real person’ version of Pinocchio but that’s not to say that puppets don’t get a look in. An ethereally lit underwater scene features an enormous, fluorescent dogfish puppet, with jellyfish puppets bobbing on either side of the stage. There are also the perennially delightful sock-puppet backing singers. The King’s Head Theatre is a small space with a small stage, and there is something wonderful about a creative team that happily incorporates a fish puppet that fills the entire aisle. Of course in such a small space every detail shows, and the makeup deserves a special mention. Joshua da Costa’s arms and legs are painted with curly wood markings, Robin Bailey’s chancer fox has a rough, ruddy complexion and Shelley the snail has some delicate, shimmering face art that hints at her sweet personality.
In the year of Brexit and Trump I was expecting some pretty sharp topical humour in Pinocchio. In this I was slightly disappointed; both topics do feature, but the jokes are not especially daring or clever. Perhaps the targets are just too large; perhaps it’s too much to expect a humble, boutique panto to come up with jokes that haven’t already been made at the expense of both. I am simply holding Charles Court Opera to the high standard of their previous productions. Still, Pinocchio really is a great night out; extremely funny, good-natured and a prime example of very talented people doing a difficult thing and making it look not just easy, but enormous fun.
Author: John Savournin
Director: John Savournin
Box office: 020 7226 8561
Booking link: https://kingsheadtheatre.ticketsolve.com/#/shows/873558473/events/127886246
Booking Until: 7 January 2017