Pinocchio at The National Theatre
The usual hush when the lights went down in the Lyttelton theatre was replaced by murmurings of awe as a tiny blue light like a miniature comet flew above and around the blackened stage, apparently attached to no one and nothing. Magic. The “comet’s” intense blue brought the dawning suspicion that it was a manifestation of the Blue Fairy, Pinocchio’s guardian. The transformation into a pretty blonde lady was soon effected and she appeared in flowing blue robes whenever Pinocchio was in deep trouble, which he frequently was. As for Pinocchio, we saw him born from within an towering old tree, appearing not as a woodenhead but already a human, naughty child (enthusiastically played by Mark Hadfield).
The premise was that Pinocchio, seen alongside Geppetto the man who made and adopted him, seemed to be small since Geppetto was giant-sized. He was of course a puppet, operated with subtlety and skill by 3 puppeteers, one of whom gave the character his rather fine voice, speaking at ground level from beneath Geppetto’s clothes. In fact the puppetry throughout was superbly directed by Toby Olié with teams of well-coached manipulators, dwarfed by these giants, working with long rods on Jiminy Cricket, the wicked puppetmaster Stromboli, and the Coachman. Their execution was terrific, as indeed was that of the whole show (directed by John Tiffany) with every scene imaginatively and dynamically staged. There were quieter episodes with the Blue Fairy godmother and the grieving Geppetto which were sensitively played: agreeable contrasts with the rest.
The music (derived for the most part from the Disney movie with new input by Martin Lowe), heightened the magic and ensured that the audience happily entered the world of let’s pretend, complicit with every illusion.
Of course this critic finds things to criticise: it was difficult to understand why Pinocchio, a puppet longing to be a human, gave no hint of his wooden-ness in his entirely naturalistic movement throughout. The change to a ‘real boy’ when it came, lay in the reform of his character and this his stature, metaphorically and physically reaching the proportions of Geppetto - the actor, not the puppet! The second half lacked the humour of the first; the episode of the Whale was somehow unsatisfactory; the Blue Fairy’s ‘I told you so’ lines were didactic and over-sentimental. Final cavil, both actors and musicians were amplified (mic-ed?) to such a degree one ended the show battered, ears ringing.
All in all this was a brash, all-singing all-dancing extravaganza of a show: loud, melodious and intensely colourful, with non-stop action and ever-changing transformations of the scenery (chief designer Bob Crowley). Even though the National’s workshops are vast the show must have stretched the capacity and the craftsmen to their limit.
I bet Pinocchio, cleverly appealing to consenting adults as much as children, will transfer to a larger theatre. Once again the National has produced a show in which puppets and puppeteers are a strong feature of its success.
The almost entirely adult audience received it with wildly enthusiastic applause at the end. Surely it will run and run.
Director, John Tiffany
Set and Costume Designer and Puppet Co-designer, Bob Crowley
Music Supervisor and Orchestrations, Martin Lowe
Movement Director, Steven Hoggett
Puppetry Director and Puppet Co-designer, Toby Olié
Geppetto and Coachman Puppeteer, Stuart Angell
Ensemble, Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge
Jiminy Cricket, Audrey Brisson
Ensemble and Swing, Stephanie Bron
Jiminy Cricket and Blue Fairy Puppeteer, James Charlton
Stromboli, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr
Geppetto, Mark Hadfield
Pinocchio, Joe Idris-Roberts
Blue Fairy Puppeteer, Rebecca Jayne-Davies
Ensemble and Swing, Linford Johnson
Blue Fairy Puppeteer, Sarah Kameela Impey
Coachman, David Kirkbride
Ensemble, Anabel Kutay
The Fox, David Langham
Stromboli Puppeteer, Michael Lin
Blue Fairy, Annette McLaughlin
Waxy, Jack North
Lampy, Dawn Sievewright
Ensemble, Clemmie Sveaas
Geppetto and Coachman Puppeteer, Michael Taibi
Geppetto and Coachman Puppeteer, Scarlet Wilderink
Ensemble, Jack Wolfe