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Pinocchio at the Unicorn Theatre

Marmalade (Susan Harrison), the cat in this version of Pinocchio, which does away with a fox, is straight in there with audience participation, inviting the younger members (of whom there were many on press night) to engage in conversation. A cacophony of meows later, the production wastes no time in getting down to business – and this cat is a good cat, rather than one scheming with a fox to deceive and trick the title character. Pinocchio (an engaging Peyvand Sadeghian) is led astray instead by Fratello (Tom Kanji), who describes himself as a “travelling toy seller”, and while there is much Pinocchio still needs to learn, including things that aren’t taught at school, he picks things up remarkably quickly from others, for good or for ill.

Unicorn Theatre - Pinocchio. Eleanor Wyld & Sam Pay. Photo credit Ellie Kurttz.
Unicorn Theatre – Pinocchio. Eleanor Wyld & Sam Pay. Photo credit Ellie Kurttz.

The morals of the closing scene made me smile – Geppetto (also Kanji), the toymaker who ends up becoming Pinocchio’s father (there are no surprises in this narrative as to how that happens) agrees with Pinocchio that lying to someone is rather like assuming that those being lied to don’t exist, which to me came across as a damning indictment of the Government’s view of the electorate. I doubt, however, this was the intention of the show – either way, it’s far from the only instance in which it appeals both to the target audience and to the parents, teachers and other adults also in the room. That is to say, it’s multi-layered.

The inventiveness of the puppetry comes into its own in the second half, with a portrayal of The Terrible Dogfish that had the children screaming with terror. I was creasing with laughter – at precisely what would be giving too much away. Some of the scene changes, too, provoked strong reactions, and while a scenario in which parents and school staff find themselves shushing those under their charge might otherwise have been less than ideal, it added to the atmosphere in this show. These were children very much enthralled by the action on stage and responded accordingly: their behaviour, frankly, was better than some of those who are old enough to know better!

This isn’t a musical but that doesn’t stop the show from having a sprightly song and dance number, and there’s a fair bit for on-stage musician Sam Pay to do, including playing the part of school bully Mommo. Pinocchio, however, has Polpetta (Eleanor Wyld) more than defending him, stressing the importance, whether one is at school, in the workplace, or retired, of looking out for one another and, when appropriate, speaking up and standing one’s ground. Wyld also portrays the Duchess, a stereotypically mean-spirited member of the monarchy who predictably reaps in proportion to what she sows. Nice wig, though.

There’s much to draw from this highly familiar story, not only in spotting how it’s been adapted for this production, but in its core message to tell the truth, even when it hurts, because the alternative, in the end, hurts even more. The implications and applications of this point are almost infinite. Now there are, I appreciate, only so many productions of Pinocchio you would even want to see in your lifetime. This accessible and appealing production should be one of them.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Unicorn’s Artistic Director Justin Audibert directs Eve Leigh’s dazzling new adaptation of this much- loved family favourite, Pinocchio. This classic story of Geppetto, a lonely carpenter who wishes that the wooden puppet he has carved and named Pinocchio, becomes a real boy.

With a touch of magic from the blue fairy, enter a world of gingerbread villages and snow-capped mountains in this captivating adventure of friendship and family as Pinocchio overcomes temptation and finds courage and love in the face of fear and danger.

The cast is Susan Harrison (Marmalade), Tom Kanji (Gepetto/Fratello), Sam Pay (Mommo), Peyvand Sadeghian (Pinocchio) and Eleanor Wyld (Polpetto/Blue Fairy/Duchess).

Adapted by Eve Leigh
Directed by Justin Audibert
Designed by Jean Chan
Movement and Puppetry Direction by Laura Cubitt
Lighting Design by Ric Mountjoy
Composed by Barnaby Race
Sound Design by Ed Clarke
Puppet Design & Make by Chris Pirie
Associate Designed by Pip Terry
Puppet Fabricator Izzy Bristow
Blinks and Twinkles Nick Willsher
Sunday 6 November to Saturday 31 December 2022

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