If I was to ask you if you knew Carlo Collodi’s story about an old toymaker called Geppetto and the little wooden boy he made. A boy that was forever trying to do good but mostly failed, even aided and abetted by an insect conscience. Well, you would turn to me and say oh yes I know it. I would then respond in traditional pantomime style by replying ‘oh no, you don’t’. We would go back and forth with this response and counter-response until I got you to the front door of the King’s Head Theatre in Islington where Charles Court Opera is presenting a new Pinocchio story which is nothing like you’ve ever seen before.
Normally at this point in a review, I would give you a quick synopsis of the story but, in this case, everything I wrote would be a spoiler and you really do need to see this show to appreciate the skillful way it has been put together. What I will tell you is that many of the traditional characters of the original Pinocchio story are present. So we have the little wooden puppet with no strings (Joshua Da Costa) and we have Jiminy Cricket (Matthew R J Ward). There is also the Fox (Robin Bailey) in this version. However, we also have some new members joining the Pinocchio family, including Shelly (Francesca French), El Tabasco (John Savournin/Matthew Kellett) and a rather special chicken (Nichola Jolley).
The story, devised by Director John Savournin and Musical Director David Eaton, is a really nice one that has all the traditional pantomime elements but is still full of surprises along the way. There are great musical numbers where everything from pop to opera makes an appearance and there is some very elegant wordplay to get the songs to convey the correct message. My favourites? Well, I pretty much liked them all but ‘Get Happy’, ‘Bat Out of Hell’ and the ABBA Medley’ were my top three. There are also some of the worst – and therefore by definition, best – puns sprinkled throughout the script, in fact, the only thing sprinkled about more than the puns was the glitter. And, of course, there was the traditional sing-off which was easily won by Team Fox on the night I went. Panto at its finest.
Moving to the performers and what can I say? All of them were really great in their respective roles. Joshua Da Costa in the title role brought everything that you would expect from Pinocchio. The naivety of a not very worldly-wise young ‘boy’ along with the cockiness of a puppet that doesn’t have strings to control him. His enthusiasm shone through from the start and there were some really lovely moments – such as his duet with Shelly – which were really touching. I also absolutely loved Robin Bailey’s performance as Foxy. Normally not a character to like but in this production, he was a wonderful mixture of arrogant sensuality and heartbreaking vulnerability. All told, this cast work superbly together and each character has a lovely feel to them that makes them believable and a living, breathing entity in their own right. The costumes – by Mia Wallden – were visually perfect and quite stunning, really adding to the nuances of each character. For example, you took one look at EL Tabasco and instinctively knew the sort of creature he was and his total belief in his own power and sexual prowess.
William Fricker’s set managed to fit a heck of a lot in a relatively small space. With unexpected little doors and hinged elements and when put together with Nicholas Holdridge’s clever lighting design, the set was everything from a run down tavern to the bottom of the sea, where it was inhabited by a friendly fish so well put together it looked like it had swum there from the opening of The Lion King which took Pinocchio for a magical swim throughout the auditorium.
Pinocchio is Charles Court Opera’s 10th boutique pantomime and, to my mind, is their finest yet. It’s fun, exciting, innovative and just a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours. Christmas shows abound at this time of year and it is sometimes really difficult to know what to go and see. A traditional panto or something a bit more contemporary? Luckily, in this version of Pinocchio you have both. The show is suitable for everyone with different versions covering everything from young children’s 3pm Matinees – under 5s free on laps – to Family Friendly shows and adult only performances which I will try really hard to catch. All in all, Pinocchio is just a great family-friendly show that will have kids and adults laughing and heading off into Upper Street with their Christmas spirit well and truly topped up to maximum.
Review by Terry Eastham
Pinocchio – Charles Court Opera’s 10th Boutique Panto
Charles Court Opera make a welcome return to the King’s Head Theatre, with their 10th Boutique pantomime. This year, they present their own imaginative take on one of the most inventive fairytales of all time – Pinocchio. Performed by a cast of CCO’s best, with a whale-full of draw-dropping musical numbers from pop to opera, and puns and tomfoolery galore, this year’s 10th-anniversary celebration promises to be the biggest and best yet, and is not to be missed!