There’s something about theatre aimed at children that always surprises me. I think part of it is seeing the hordes of sprogs rushing into the foyer, parents or other unfortunate relatives trying to keep up, then the noise that a few hundred children can generate while waiting for the show to start is quite phenomenal. However, if the production is a good one, then as soon as the curtain goes up, the noise level goes down and the attention to the stage becomes 100%, proving once more the magical properties of the theatre. I mention this because last night I was privileged to see this effect at work once more when I went to Sadler’s Wells to see Jasmin Vardimon’s new production of Pinocchio.
First things first, forget Walt Disney, there is no cute cricket singing ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ in this production. Instead, Jasmine and her team have gone back to the original 1883 book by Italian writer Carlo Collodi which is much darker than the, probably more popular film version. However, all the important things are there, Pinocchio is a wooden marionette, created by the toymaker Geppetto, who has a good fairy looking out for him and a conscience to guide him. Despite both these, he is a wilful and disobedient ‘son’ to Geppetto and spends most of his time trying to extricate himself from precarious situations that he has managed to get into in his quest from being a little wooden toy to becoming a real boy.
This version of Pinocchio is absolute magic from the start as the great curtain rises revealing what looks like an American Teepee in the centre of the stage – just the first part of Guy Bar-Amotz and Jasmin Vardimon’s superb set design. The narrator appears as a set of floating white hands that form a face and we are introduced to Geppetto’s world, including the most amazing human musical box I’ve ever seen – the skill of the dancers performing this is simply stunning. The story itself – one puppet’s search for humanity – was nicely put together and, whilst never straying into preaching at people, really got across the journey Pinocchio was going through as he learned to feel, understand and ,where necessary, control his emotions.
So, we know the show is magical and the story is a familiar one. Did it manage to keep the rugrats entertained and stop them from running up and down the aisles? Yes, it did and did so in spectacular style. Jasmin Vardimon’s choreography was first rate and the highly talented team of dancers – Maria Doulgeri, Emma Farnell-Watson, Estéban Lecoq, David Lloyd, Aoi Nakamura, Uroš Petronijevic, Stefania Sotiropoulou and Alexandros Stavropoulos – have put together a show that mixes contemporary dance with physical theatre and pure imagination at its finest to tell Pinocchio’s tale. I did feel that a couple of the eighteen scenes, such the Marionette Theatre, were slightly overlong, but on the whole, the entire running time, around 90 minutes worked well and, looking back it was amazing how much of a story had been communicated with very few words being spoken. Obviously, I had a favourite scene, when Pinocchio is trying, and failing, to be accepted by other, real, children. It was in fact, a pretty horrible scene as the little puppet tried desperately to fit in but was rebuffed at every turn by some very unpleasant children.
To sum up, I have to say that this was the best version of Pinocchio I have seen. The production and story were spot on and the performance itself was truly mesmerising – if you don’t believe me then ask the hundreds of children who sat with eyes glued to the stage and a big smile on their faces. There is a tradition that The Snowman is the must see Christmas dance show every year, I think it has just found a rival.
Review by Terry Eastham
Jasmin Vardimon’s innovative take on the classic Collodi fairytale – a brand new family-friendly dance show, performed by Jasmin Vardimon Company’s breathtakingly physical dancers.
Bringing to life the famous marionette, the show follows Pinocchio as he embarks on a fantastic journey to become a human boy. Showcasing Jasmin Vardimon’s trademark theatrical style, the piece combines physical theatre, quirky characterisation and innovative technologies with text and dance to explore the idea of what it means to be human.
With clever humour, engaging drama and witty observations, Pinocchio takes audiences on a wonderful journey of discovery through the landscape of this timeless fable.