Review – Pinocchio, National Theatre

Thursday 14 December 2017

You can’t say the National’s not hell-bent on success with Pinocchio.

Disney have offered up the stage rights of the Oscar-winning score from their 1940 classic animation and promised they won’t interfere. The songs are arranged by Tony/Grammy/Olivier Award-winning musical director Martin Lowe. The book’s by Tony and Olivier Award-winner Dennis (Matilda) Kelly and it’s directed by Tony Award-winner John (Once and the Harry Potter plays) Tiffany. The design team of Bob Crowley (set/costume/puppet co-designer) and Paule Constable (lighting) have 4 Oliviers and 9 Tony Awards between them. Goodness.

The creative table is positively groaning with talent and awards, so how come the National are serving up turkey again this Christmas?

Based on Carlo Collodi‘s tale it’s about a childless puppeteer Geppetto (performed by an outsized marionette, Mark Hadfield and two more puppeteers), who crafts a young boy from a block of enchanted wood and wishes it was a real boy. In this present climate an old man getting wood and yearning for a young boy seems decidedly dodgy. We’ll just say thank goodness the Old Vic didn’t get the performing rights.
Since there are only five songs in the film (composed by Leigh Harline with lyrics by Ned Washington, Leigh Harline and Paul J. Smith ) there’s some padding from the Disney back catalogue with the Big Five being eked out so judiciously it feels like an age before we are treated to a couple of proper numbers, “Hi-diddle-dee-dee (An Actor’s Life For Me)” and “I’ve Got No Strings”. By the interval we felt we were watching a show that really doesn’t want to be a musical at all.
Things are not helped by the tone, which is all over the place. Too dark and serious for really young children in parts (advertised as “For brave 8-year-olds and above”) yet there’s some lame childish gags (raspberry blowing and fart gags – really?) sprinkled among the more adult ones. Not many in the audience seemed to find them at all amusing. Our default expressions remained in Grinch mode.
Whilst Pinocchio is represented by the perkily likeable Joe Idris-Roberts with a chest presumably sanded within an inch of its life, some characters are represented by giant puppets (puppetry director and puppet co-designer Toby Olié) with an actor and puppeteers puppeteering away madly underneath (cf. Mr Hadfield). This really slows things down; as the puppets speak without opening their mouths the eye is automatically drawn to the actor struggling beneath. The trouble is the actor’s too busy keeping an eye on the giant puppet head rather than the person they’re talking to. Engaging with it becomes very difficult. Sufferers of pupaphobia should definitely keep away (reading this last puppet-stuffed paragraph alone may bring on an attack).

Pinocchio’s conscience is the insect, Jiminy Cricket, who is voiced and womanhandled by Audrey Brisson who has something of the look of Claire Foy about her and rather painfully spends most of the show on her knees. Why the cricket has gone through gender realignment remains unclear; Jiminy’s certainly had all traces of natural charm surgically removed. Phil couldn’t understand why Pinocchio didn’t reach for the Deet.

Given the story’s locations include a theatre, an amusement park and the inside of a whale you might arrive expecting some theatrical visual dazzlement. Think again. We heaved sighs of relief when Stromboli’s puppet show theatre trundled into view late in Act 1 and we had something that at last constituted proper scenery. We were left scratching our heads as step ladders with branches growing out of the tops of them were wheeled around in Act 2, but then we found quite a few parts harder to fathom than the bitcoin.
The Pleasureland sequence – where our hero falls in with a group of delinquents and takes to alcohol before being transformed into a donkey – lumbers on tediously and seemingly without an end in sight. If you’re irritated by the cricket you’ll probably struggle with Dawn Sievewright’s Lampy who behaves as though she was still one of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (which Ms Sievewright was in) crossed with Jimmy Krankie.
In better news, the brief appearance of the whale offers some “Ooo look mummy” possibilities and the sculpting of Pinocchio is smartly handled. We were also drawn to the effective illusions of Jamie Harrison; we never tired of the floating flame that represents the Blue Fairy, that’s when she’s not represented by Annette McLaughlin who spends much of the show pulling her cloak’s hood on and off her head.
This will not be the National’s next War Horse. Or for that matter the next The Lion King. This is more dog’s dinner than cash cow.



5 Responses to “Review – Pinocchio, National Theatre”

  1. rt Says:

    The press night was meant to be last night (13/12/17) but this, according to google, is the only Pinocchio review on the web. So, well done whinger(s). Quite interestingly, there was a link to a review from the Guardian, posted around half past midday but this only took me to a page saying it “has been taken down as it breached an embargo. It will be relaunched on its correct date.”. It wasn’t even a bad review – quite the opposite. Google gave the following extracts: “The wooden wonder struts his stuff in a brilliant … The puppetry is ingenious and the songs are a joy…”. So what’s going on? The NT wants more time to get it “right”?

    Anyway, thanks for the detailed review. The Guardian won’t sway me. I can’t face yet another disappointing production at the NT.

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      Interesting that they breached and surprising they’re so positive. We were a party of four and were pretty unanimous. Not feeling the love in the audience…

  2. MKB Says:

    Saw this at the first preview and made pretty much exactly the same points as the WEW. Assumed they would have re-shaped it by opening, but apparently not.

  3. Sal Says:

    A delightful review as always from the Whingers. What could one expect, after Collodi’s fine book was permanently killed by wretched adaptations of which the worst was Roberto Benigni’s foul screen adaptation:

    Although poor Martin Landau, who deserved better, being stuck with the role of Gepetto in a different Hollywood version was hardly better. The National’s gender reassignment of Jiminy Cricket says it all, since the one immortal aspect of the original film was the alcoholic Cliff Edwards singing “When You Wish Upon a Star”

    as if he knew that his substance abuse would lead him to a pauper’s grave – curious that Pinnochio has been slaughtered for all future adaptations whereas there must have been at least as many terrible stage versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but that one retains its life. But then, Collodi was no Dickens…

  4. […] West End Whingers: ” the brief appearance of the whale offers some “Ooo look mummy” possibilities and the sculpting of Pinocchio is smartly handled. We were also drawn to the effective illusions of Jamie Harrison; we never tired of the floating flame that represents the Blue Fairy, that’s when she’s not represented by Annette McLaughlin who spends much of the show pulling her cloak’s hood on and off her head.” […]

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