Reviewed by Nathan Deane
When you hear the name Pinocchio, you’ll probably think of the 1940 Disney movie. A lot of people don’t know, however, that Pinocchio is based on a children’s novel written in 1883 by Carlo Collodi, an Italian writer. So when a lot of families walk into the Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre to see the new musical version of Pinocchio by Dennis Kelly, they’re probably not going to realise that this is a combination of the original story and the Disney film. The original story was a much, much darker tale of boyhood and Dennis Kelly went about translating the darkness of the original story onto the stage, with the help of Martin Lowe, who adapted the five original songs from the Disney film to be suited for a full-length musical.
Visually, this show is stunning. The design, by John Tiffany, is the most beautiful set design I’ve seen all year. The use of ladders on wheels to represent faraway houses, a bridge, and cars, for example, is extremely creative. The set was a lot less whimsical than what was happening in the show as if to say that the characters are living in a normal world – not a fantasy world.
The role of Pinocchio is played by Joe Idris-Roberts whos boy-like energy and wonder are spectacular. He really captures the spirit of a boy seeing the world around him for the first time perfectly, and his movement to make him seem wooden is great. But what’s a puppet without his maker?
The role of Gepetto, and all the other adult parts really, are played by large rod-operated puppets, designed by Bob Crowley. This is a unique way to show the size of Pinocchio compared to others, and it works. Each puppet has four or five puppeteers operating it, one of which is the voice actor for the puppet. It took some time to get used to, but it was extremely creative and it fits the story, too!
Audrey Brisson plays the conscience everyone knows and loves, Jiminy Cricket. Jiminy is portrayed by a small puppet, operated by Audrey and another puppeteer, James Charlton. The two worked brilliantly as a team to operate Jiminy, and Audrey’s portrayal of the character is hilarious. In this version of the story, Jiminy is a female hypochondriac who is very easily annoyed by Pinocchio.
Other standout performances for me were by Dawn Sievewright as Lampy, one of the boys from Pleasure Island. Lampy is aggressive and cocky and suffers a horrible fate. Do you remember that scene from the film in which the boys at Pleasure Island are turned into Donkeys? Yeah? Well, imagine that…just in real life. That scene turned dark super quickly, but it helped to keep the atmosphere going. Jack Wolfe played Waxy only briefly but he was a standout performer. His character made me laugh a lot and his interactions with Lampy and the rest of the cast were brilliant. And you can’t forget the story’s villain, The Fox, played by David Langham. David brought a completely new take on the part. In the film, the Fox was a smooth-tongued, persuasive and charming animal. Whilst the Fox, in this version, is persuasive, he looks and feels truly evil, a trait that David plays really well.
The show really only had the five songs from the Disney film in it. I didn’t sense any new original material. Because there were only five songs and various reprises of those songs, I feel this show is more of a play with songs than a musical.
Overall, I really loved this piece. From the set design, to the puppets and to the actors, this show is one not to be missed over the Christmas season!