Pros: It’s magical, it’s mad, and it’s mesmerising. Wrap up warmly and head to Covent Garden now.
Cons: The show could be tightened up a little so as not to overrun.
Pinocchio has been adapted and modernised for the screen and the stage so often that it’s easy to forget that its beginnings lie in the dark tale by Carlo Collidi where children are turned into donkeys for slave work and get hung from trees by assassins. The magnificent promenade performance by Iris Theatre, currently being staged at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, however, embraces the story’s mysterious and uncanny elements and turns them into a tale of love, hope and childish dreams. Using puppetry, music, theatre and storytelling, Pinocchio explores a puppet’s search for life’s meaning.
A nice fellow Collidi’s Pinocchio ain’t (compared with the saccharine little boy Disney envisioned) – he’s a selfish and aggravating character who runs away from his loving father, Geppetto (Jonathan Mulquin) to find adventure and fun. On his travels, he meets many fantastical characters including the long-suffering Green Cricket (Nick Howard-Brown), the sassy Mistress Cherry (Annabel King) and the delightfully comic and murderous duo, Mr Fox (Mulquin again) and Mrs Cat (Emma Darlow). His friend, the naughty but lovable Lampwick (Simon Kent), is transformed into a donkey in the Land of Fun, but Pinocchio escapes with the Blue Fairy’s help, only to find himself accosted by assassins on the road who are after his gold coins. Finally, Pinocchio and Lampwick set off in a little boat to find Geppetto, and are swallowed whole by a whale (at which point we are all invited to follow them into a gaping hole into St Paul’s Church itself). There is a happy ending though, when Pinocchio realises what he needs to do to be a “real boy”.
This all sounds rather mad and overwhelming, which it is, but Iris Theatre’s production manages to keep the whole piece together and coherent. The imaginative and lovingly made puppets by Alicia Britt seemed to be inspired by Collidi’s age of invention and technical progress: Many of them were complex enough to be intriguing, but simple enough that their workings could be understood by everyone – such as the little wooden boat rocking on the stormy sea. Both children and adults will delight in the playful costumes by Denise Andersson, the charming churchyard of St Paul’s Church which the audience is invited to explore as part of the performance, and the hauntingly beautiful score by Candida Caldicot.
The performances by the seven-strong cast were outstanding, and they managed to switch costumes and characters with enviable ease. Nick Pack as Pinocchio was the only one who held just one role (and did so with bravura) and did not, at one stage or other, manipulate a puppet. At two hours 30 minutes, it’s a long performance, but the grand finale inside the Church leaves you feeling elated and enchanted.
Author: Carlo Collidi
Director: Dan Winder
Producer: Tanja Pagnuco
Booking Link: http://iristheatre.com/event/pinocchio/
Booking Until: 29 August