Unicorn Theatre, London – until 31 December 2022
As autumn turns into winter and Christmas approaches, the lonely toymaker Geppetto pleads with the blue moon gleaming over his village in the Italian alps, to make him a father. Luckily, the Blue Fairy hears him and brings to life the boy-sized puppet born from Geppetto’s despair. Her gift comes with a condition, however: the wooden child Pinocchio must learn how to be good by Christmas. If he doesn’t – and Geppetto fails at parenting – then he turns back into a toy. Like the iconic Disney film, many hair-raising adventures ensue, portrayed by the fantastic cast of five.
Peyvand Sadeghian energetically tumbles about as the loose-limbed Pinocchio, an endearing combination of naivety and naughtiness. She is effectively complemented by Tom Kanji as Geppetto. Brimming with love but often overwhelmed by the realities of child rearing, he and Sadeghian are a great pair balancing love and frustration in equal measure. Marmalade the cat (Susan Harrison) is both narrator and Pinocchio’s trusty pal. This relationship is much like the goofy, best friend sidekick in pantomimes, but Marmalade is rather more murder-y. Rounding out the cast are the multi-rolling Eleanor Wyld and actor-muso Sam Pay. Wyld is a delight as the Blue Fairy channelling Liza Minnelli’s Upper East Side energy – this fairy is less sweetness and light, and more no-nonsense, seen-it-all.
Adapted by Eve Leigh, the script draws on both the popular 1940 movie and the original Italian children’s story. There are notable omissions from the film, but these are not detrimental to this production. At its core, it extolls the merits of honesty and family, and highlights the lengths we go to for the ones we love. The direction embraces the energetic pace of what is fundamentally an adventure tale, though the particularly high-stakes moments are rushed and consequently, their thrill is diminished.
This is a great complement to traditional British panto. The use of fairytale, music and the goodie/baddie dichotomy remain, but the eggy, set gags and joke routines are thankfully left out. Colourful, detailed design (by Jean Chan) and puppetry (by Chris Pirie) give the show a festive lushness, but it’s the performances that make this Christmas show shine.
Pinocchio runs through 31 December.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.