King’s Head Theatre, London – until 7 January 2017
Guest reviewer: Laura Thomas
What sets this hilarious production of Pinocchio apart from the plethora of boutique pantomimes opening this week, is the sheer quality of the piece. A backstage team of over a dozen have laboured to make sure that costume, design, lighting, puppets, movement and set are a constant joy in this tiny performing space. The huge luminous dog-fish is a brilliant coup de theatre; the failing flea circus, a joy. The apparently relaxed performance style speaks of long hours in rehearsal, as marks and cues are hit with elegant ease. But it is the story, the narrative, that elevates this piece above the merely farcical.
This is the tenth seasonal production of the Charles Court Opera company, and their second at the King’s Head following their migration from the Rosemary Branch for last year’s Mirror, Mirror. They have chosen to rework the fable of Pinocchio, the outcast and isolated wooden boy, as the setting to the work.
The lead is played with winsome charm, flavoured with a dash of knowing irony, by Joshua Da Costa, as he seeks to escape his mundane life of toil and servitude. But he is betrayed to the wicked Baron Tabasco (Savournin) by the weak and desperate Jiminy Cricket (the excellent Matthew RJ Ward) and taken, in bonds, to star as a novelty act in a variety show.
The loyal snail Francesca Da Costa and amoral fox Robin Bailey set out to rescue him, aided by the scene stealing Nichola Jolley, her magic chicken is surreal and elegant, her voice terrifying and powerful, her movement compelling and bizarre.
As a writer Savournin has an instinctive grasp of how to use the various stock pantomime devises to propel the narrative and engage the crowd, as the audience is drawn into the surreal twists of logic and fate that see our hero propelled into great peril. Knowing asides and in-jokes sweeten the mix, without ever becoming intrusive. The cast hit the right tone of (apparently) unintentional earnest campiness.
The vocal numbers and arrangements are a real treat, tightly choreographed in a parody of cheesy pop videos. Complex harmonies are casually tossed in the mix, as might be expected from a company composed of such significant operatic talent. Melodies are plundered from pop hits of the 1980s, Abba rubbing shoulders with Meatloaf. Pathos follows slapstick follows audience humiliation. The talented cast embrace their inner ham and provide a performance of enthusiasm and substance.
Photo credit Bill Knight
Pacey and compact, the performance never drags and is over far too soon. Although there was little doubt as to the outcome, the corn-fed climax is satisfying and fulfilling, properly resolving the character arcs of all the protagonists.
The performance is also family friendly, and whilst not entirely free from innuendo, operates on two levels, and is eminently suitable for younger children. The clear and moral narrative will appeal to them, as will the slapstick, humiliation of grownups picked from the audience (hint: sit in the middle of the row) and free sweets.
Hilarious. Highly recommended