Pinocchio at the Unicorn Theatre is a play of contrasts: what’s real and unreal, truth and lies, parents and children, good and bad. It’s a colourful, dynamic show with a great cast, yet ultimately it feels like it needs a little more work to achieve an overall balance.
The message is certainly a timely one, when we routinely hear in the news of broken promises and deceit. What do we tell our children about truth and being your real self? Here, it’s that the way you behave says more about you and your relationship with others than words ever can. Even when your word is doubted the reality of your actions will reveal integrity.
Peyvand Sadeghian is a delightful Pinocchio. Her physical performance as the wooden boy is energetic and charming, striking a delicate balance between childlike naivety and cheeky naughtiness. Pinocchio’s relationship with his father is lovely, and in another binary it’s interesting to see Geppetto (played impressively sensitively by Tom Kanji) struggling to learn to parent just as his child is striving to learn to be good. Writer Eve Leigh creates sympathetic conversations that illuminate both sides of the story, contrasting individuals’ truths and gently offering up differing ways of understanding.
There’s some fun audience engagement, with Susan Harrison, in particular, as Marmalade the cat getting the audience warmed up with ease and charisma. Harrison also does a great job acting as narrator, and stylishly delivers some great comic one-liners.
The star of the show for me is undoubtedly a large Dogfish puppet, beautifully crafted by Chris Pirie and performed with enormous enthusiasm by Sam Pay. If you have never heard an entire audience of small children screaming at a monster fish glowing in the dark you just haven’t lived. They loved it!
The production is beautifully designed by Jean Chan. A subtle reminder of Collodi’s original novel is embodied in print around the stage and on Pinocchio’s costume, there are sprinklings of glitter. The set includes some nice mobility, including an excellent alpine village that’s wheeled on by toy train. There’s also interesting sound design from Ed Clarke that makes surprising use of the whole auditorium. Largely though, the show sits comfortably in a colourful but not entirely innovative world. One exception is a striking scene where the Duchess, played magnificently by Eleanor Wyld, is scaled up to the ceiling in a fake ermine robe; reminiscent of the deceitful wizard hiding behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.
It’s the songs in the show that perhaps need some work. There are only a few, none of which are entirely memorable, then a Christmas chorus grafted on at the end for the audience to join in with. It might be better to either have more or none at all, as what we did get felt quite unsatisfying. Equally, it doesn’t really feel like Pinocchio has much of a journey. He doesn’t meet enough challenges to demonstrate a significant evolution in himself, and the different locations are not staged with enormous distinction, so it’s a fairly limited adventure.
That being said, this is a very entertaining seasonal show with a highly talented cast and an optimistic, understanding message. Some more investment in the songs would enhance the already dynamic engagement with the audience to make it even better.
Adapted by: Eve Leigh
Directed by: Justin Audibert
Design by: Jean Chan
Movement and Puppetry Direction by: Laura Cubitt
Lighting Design by: Ric Mountjoy
Composed by: Barnaby Race
Sound Design by: Ed Clarke
Puppet Design & Make by: Chris Pirie
Associate Design by: Pip Terry
Puppet Fabricator: Izzy Bristow
Blinks and Twinkles: Nick Willsher
Pinocchio plays at Unicorn Theatre until 31 December 2022.