views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Sadler's Wells
24th October 2016


David Lloyd and Maria Doulgeri as Geppetto and Pinocchio

Photography provided by Sadler's Wells

It's a tale as old as time. Wait, wrong Disney movie. It's a tale as old as 1883, which is when Carlo Collodi penned the well-known children's book Pinocchio. There are many translations and adaptations in modern popular culture, not least the 1940 animated film, but just as this one, they all start with a simple block of wood. Here Geppetto (David Lloyd) carves a marionette puppet who he names Pinocchio (Maria Doulgeri) and spends most of the 90 minutes silently weeping off-stage and tearing his hair out. With most of the action focussing on Pinocchio's exploits, we only catch a glimpse of poor Geppetto's parental anguish. The trouble with kids, especially those fashioned out of wood, is that they never realise just how much you worry about them.

Staying reasonably close to the original text, dramaturge Guy Bar-Amotz creates a narrative arc in which young Pinocchio runs away from school and goes on all kinds of crazy adventures, including one where he is turned into a donkey. Although a mischievous fox (Uros Petronijevic) and cat (Esteban Lecocq) pretend to befriend him, they regard Pinocchio as a mere plaything, manipulating him for kicks. Whilst the emotional impact of each scene is clearly felt and a narrator helps keep the action moving forward, not everything segues neatly and parts do feel a touch rambling and drawn out.

The cruelty of the Pinocchio's new " friends" as they taunt him, refuse to play with him and steal his money is palpable, as is Geppetto's grief as he hunts for his new son, consumed with fear that the little wooden puppet may have come to harm away from his protection.The general tone of the production is quite playful and light-hearted, but the show's creator Jasmin Vardimon doesn't shy away from the darker elements to the coming of age story. Whilst younger kids won't be traumatised, there's plenty for the grown ups. Lloyd's sadness, Doulgeri's utter confusion and sense of betrayal - these negative emotions inject real power into the piece.

Vardimon's choreography is bold, whimsical and enchanting, with some wonderful ensemble scenes. The music box sequence in which the entire company turn together like a well-oiled mechanical toy is charming and carefully-crafted. A bit of Beyoncé is woven into the piece too, with Stefania Sotiropoulou and Alexandros Stauropolous busting some moves with Doulgeri, despite all three being supposedly clunky marionettes. Hands become a talking mouth to narrate the action, an impossibly long nose of a certain wooden character... Feet become faces. It's just all very clever. There are some nice touches from Vardimon throughout.

In fact, the only thing to fault with Vardimon's beautiful steps is their repetitiveness - some scenes are slightly overlong. Not long enough for children to start misbehaving, however long enough for them to start fidgeting. Bearing in mind the main target audience, some sequences need to be tightened up or extra choreography inserted to keep the kids fully engaged throughout. Although the good fairy (Aoi Nakamura) is graceful and elegant, some of her movement is overly simplistic. The cast of eight (Emma Farnell-Watson plays multiple minor roles yet deserves an equal mention) are a delight to watch.

Bar-Amotz and Vardimon's set design and Abigail Hammond's costume design give us a real sense of having fallen down a rabbit hole. Wait, wrong film again. It is that same unnerving and yet exciting feeling of suddenly appearing in a different world with no rules. Detailed masks, colourful costumes and plenty of stage carpentry make for a magical landscape.

Whilst the story may be too much for younger children to fully take in, the production of Pinocchio is a visual treat. Vardimon's family-friendly and inventive take on a classic will capture your imagination.

Pinocchio ran from 24th to 25th October 2016 at Sadler's Wells. It is currently touring around the UK.

Nearest tube station: Angel (Northern)

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