Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London
2.00pm, 20 January 2018
Some critics have been a bit sniffy about John Tiffany’s production of Pinocchio. Maybe it’s because it’s at the National that they feel they have to pick things apart in their analysis and forget to just watch and enjoy.
But I wonder how many of those who said this or that was missing had taken a child along, a child who was completely enthralled by the story and the effects, so much so that they gave a rare Craig Revel Horwood style fab-u-lous verdict at the end. Who can argue with that?
Interestingly, the Guardian’s Michael Billington was enthusiastic and he had taken his grandson with him.
The story, a stage version of the film, based on Carlo Collodi’s 1880’s tale, is about a puppet who is given life by a fairy but his dream is to be a real boy. To achieve this he goes on a series of strange adventures with a cricket – yes a cricket – as a sidekick. If you think about it too much it’s an odd story, but odd gives plenty of scope for creativity.
It’s logical that as it’s essentially about a puppet, then puppetry, and ingenious puppetry at that, is at the centre of the show.
Pinocchio is a real live actor – superbly played by Joe Idris-Roberts – but other parts are portrayed by the use of fabulous giant puppets worked and voiced by actors wearing the same costumes – and as with all good puppetry, you tend to forget the actors are there.
For the first time ever, Disney has given permission for a stage version of the film and even allowed for some of the songs to be used, from the poignant When You Wish Upon a Star to I’ve Got No Strings which is a rousing ensemble number with Pinocchio and frenzied marionettes.
The staging is fabulous – from the live boy who appears out of a carved tree trunk to a levitation, a star flicking across the stage to become a fairy, an amazing whale and the obligatory growing nose, there was always something to look and wonder at.
Plus there’s also the good old moral tale to get across. Pinocchio who is prone to telling porkies sways between good and evil guided by Jiminy Cricket as his conscience, who in this show is inexplicably but hilariously germ-phobic. Voiced by Audrey Brisson, his estimation of bacterial danger in each scenario is an unexpected delight!
Eventually of course all’s well that ends well – for the audience too, knowing they are leaving having seen a top notch production at one of our country’s greatest theatres.