‘How does his nose do that?’
The nose-growing sequence in Pinocchio’s UK premiere at Greenwich Theatre, London, had me baffled too. It was one of the many little gems in this show, which left us feeling we’d love to come back and watch it all over again some time.
Neil Bartram and Brian Hill are a Broadway and Disney writing duo whose previous credits include The Story of My Life and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. They have taken Carlo Collodi’s tale of a boy whose love for his father transforms him from a wooden puppet into a living, breathing child, and adapted it into a family-friendly show (the original is pretty dark). But the essential moral remains: if you act selfishly, you’ll end up on the road to ill fortune. But if you put others before yourself, then happiness will come to you.
In the story, a woodcutter, Geppetto, falls on hard times and cuts down a tree planted over the grave of his wife. At night he’s visited by a spirit, who tells him to carve a boy out of the tree. When the wooden boy (Pinocchio) starts to move, Geppetto sells his only coat so that the boy can go to school. But Pinocchio’s an ungrateful little wretch at this stage, and never arrives at the classroom. Instead, he’s lured away by enticing characters, who promise him a life of riches, and good fun.
Pinocchio goes on a journey that includes narrowly escaping being turned into a donkey, and ends up as a better boy (one who doesn’t lie any more – it’s fibs that make his wooden nose grow longer, in case by some miracle you’re unfamiliar with the story). In this stage version, directed by Bronagh Lagan, Pinocchio sings and dances his way through a series of calamities with an astonishing amount of energy. The actor who plays Pinocchio, Christian James, is on stage almost throughout the entire show, but his stamina seemed completely undiminished through bouncy numbers like Terra Di Regazzi, an ensemble piece which was beautiful to watch.
Humour and pathos pepper The Adventures of Pinocchio in equal measure. Geppetto is played by Martin Neely as a sweet, steadfast man (sigh….); while Ceris Hine adds a note of mischief as the Cat. James Charlton is equally strong as the Fox and Lampwick, and Rachel Louise Miller’s Fairy is a much steadier moral compass than Jiminy Cricket of the Disney version could ever be.
Nik Corrall’s set and costume design, and the lighting by David Howe, help elevate this show above the ordinary. Greenwich Theatre isn’t large, but in scenes like the swallowing of Pinocchio by the whale, where a billowing, shimmering sheet is used for waves, you could be deceived into thinking you were gazing at a stage twice the size. The costumes are striking and quirky without deflecting too much attention from the play’s action. And the lighting complements the music: soft and lulling, or more flashy when needs be (there’s even a strobe sequence at one point).
My daughter (aged 3) was perhaps a little too young to properly appreciate this show, but my son (5) thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d say that it contains enough magic and subtlety for older children, too.
And I loved it.
Pinocchio is at Greenwich Theatre until 23 August. Tickets are £16, or £13.50 for concessions and £11 for children.
We were given family tickets for the show, for the purpose of this review. All views are my own.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.