I was first introduced to the National Theatre’s Entry Pass scheme by a teacher when I was 16. With top-tier tickets for under 25’s at just £7.50 (previously £5) and for a friend at £10, you really can’t go wrong and through Entry Pass I have been able to see countless shows; Emile and the Detectives, Follies, Wonder.Land and Jane Eyre to name just a few. As a result of the wide range of shows which the national puts on, it is a totally mixed bag as to whether you will end up enjoying what they have on offer. Some of my most memorable theatrical experiences have taken place on the Olivier or Lyttelton stage such as Tamsin Grieg’s incredible Malvoli[o]a in Twelfth Night but on the other hand, Yaël Farber’s Salome was one of the worst shows I have ever forced myself to sit through. For me, their latest production of Pinocchio sits nestled between these two, having just missed the mark from being a fun-loving and meaningful production of the Disney classic, and ended up in the dangerous pantomime territory.
Before I get into my main review points I will have to admit that, I have never seen Pinocchio (dramatic intake of breath) and at the time, was not 100% on the plot. Whether this lack of knowledge and perhaps a love of this original Disney film affected my perspective of the show is certainly something to be considered as my uncultured Pinocchio-free memories meant that at times when some audience members may have been cooing over the nostalgia of the story, I was holding back from rolling my eyes.
To start on a positive note, I found the show as a whole very entertaining. As a Disney production I have to assume that there must have been a big budget for the show because the rights to anything Disney must be hella expensive. So that being said, the set design and costumes were fantastic. One of the main twists of the production was that instead of Pinocchio being a puppet, he was a played as a real human (Joe Idris-Roberts) and his father Geppetto (Mark Hadfield) and other characters were massive puppets operated by actors and puppeteers. These monstrous creatures were impressive and in some cases creepy, though I’m not sure if they were entirely effective as the lack of any moving facial features meant I often focused on the actor rather than the puppet. The set was also equipped with a giant sized workbench which Pinocchio slept under, the insides of a whale and other scenery involving random tree ladders which the ensemble span around and sang on (whatever this was representing obviously went over my head massively). One of my favourite scenes was when Pinocchio and the children are on Pleasure Island and colourful letters spelling this out are seamlessly incorporated into the action by the members of the cast.
Audrey Brisson was great as a female Jiminy Cricket. Jiminy was feisty and fun with a concern for the health and safety of everything that Pinocchio did. Jiminy worked well as a puppet and both Brisson and the puppeteer really worked in sync to ensure Jiminy looked realistic and added to her playful character. With both herself and Mark Hadfield as Geppetto, I noticed that their accents appeared to drop and change as the performance went on which could have been disconcerting but Brisson’s case, just made Jiminy even more kooky and lovable.
Another of the few things which saved this show for me was the ensemble cast. As workers in Geppetto’s workshop, performers in Stromboli’s show and the children on Pleasure Island, they were all so generously enthusiastic with the material. One of the only songs I enjoyed in the show was ‘I’ve Got No Strings’ as the cast threw themselves into the energetic dance routine which left them all strung up as marionettes on elasticated strings. As the children from the school which Pinocchio meets, I thought the masks covering their faces which all looked the same worked well to give the illusion that Pinocchio was very different from them all. Lastly, as children on Pleasure Island they were entertaining although I wasn’t a big fan of the over characterisation of the characters Waxy and Lampy. Their exaggerated performances further cemented my opinion of the show erring on the side of a pantomime.
This was one of my main issues with the show itself, it was so over the top. Pinocchio wasn’t a lovable puppet who cannot help but get into trouble but more like a pathetic child whining and grumbling along after Jiminy Cricket. He also reminded me vividly of the character Buttons from a Cinderella pantomime in his over the top facial expressions and general childish performance that I cannot get that comparison out of my head. This also translated into the performance of the Fox as he was similarly campy and exaggerated with him looking around faux menacingly into the audience. His performance was the main disappointment for me as his costume is totally bad ass with a cloak, moving tail and chunky platform boots but in general he failed to do anything which really interested or excited me. Even the Fox’s ‘death’, it’s not even really a death but this kind of ‘death’ of his powers at the end felt a bit of a let-down as he just kind of left the stage and that was the end of him. Another of my pet peeves was that being sat so close to the stage (I think we were in the third row) meant that we could see how much the actor playing the Fox spat as he talked – I truly felt sorry for the cast members who were in close range.
Another negative of being near the front meant that we could see how each of the special effects were done – we could see how Pinocchio could grow his nose, and even how at the start he ate fish and then spat out the bones. This was really disappointing and I wonder how obvious these tricks were to members of the audience further back because I think they could certainly have been made much smoother and less obvious.
One of the cruxes of the reason I didn’t like this show is how it felt as though it had been dragged out. Starting at 7 and then finishing at 9:30 with an interval in the middle, there were certainly moments where I felt as though the audience were waiting to see what would happen next for far too long. Whether it was when Pinocchio and the others had just escaped from the whale or even at the very beginning when nothing is happening on stage; it seemed as though they were just dragging the whole thing out. The use of the blue flame for the Blue Fairy was effective the first time but each time it took 30 seconds for the flame to float around felt as though it went on a lifetime. Don’t even get me started on how many times they sang ‘When you wish upon a Star’. I really had to hold myself back from laughing around the fourth time the whole cast sang it at the end – it just completely lost its meaning and would have been better off just used once.
Overall the show really felt confused – Watching as an adult there was no real Disney magic for me. I could see through the pantomime of characters and I saw behind the special effects. It was as though they couldn’t decide whether to make the show more understated and nostalgic or just make it a complete family affair and add in a singalong at the end. For those looking for the latter, I would suggest they go and see this show – it certainly is a spectacle to watch and I think it would be a wonderful show to take your children to. It just didn’t quite hit the spot with me and it won’t be something I would rush back to see again. I think the £5 programme which was half a children’s activity booklet should have given me an indication that the show wasn’t going to be my cup of tea.
2/5 for me.