Saturday, 18 May 2019

Pinocchio - Theatre Review

What: Pinocchio
When: 5 - 26 May 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Carlo Collodi
Directed by: Christian Bagin
Performed by: Jasper Foley
Design by: Eloise Kent
Masks by: Newmi Newman
Lighting by: Adelaide Harney
Sound by: Felix Watson
Jasper Foley
Pinocchio is a classic morality tale and fun adventure story written by Collodi in 1880 and it is one which has stood the test of time. Exciting imagination and bringing a whole new life to this favourite Rosa Campagnaro, Bagin, and Foley bring it back to life with an authentic, energetic and exciting remediation into the finest example of Commedia dell'Arte and it is at La Mama Courthouse this week.

Pinocchio is the story of a piece of wood originally intended to be a chair leg which, it is discovered, can speak. The lonely old wood carver, Geppetto, decides to carve him into a marionette and treats him like his son, including sending him off to school. Along the way Pinocchio gets distracted and goes on a whirlwind of adventures which lead to great misfortune brought about - just like the Greeks said - by his own flaws in character.

As he travels along and loses everything he learns to be kind and brave and eventually he is reunited with Geppetto and the Blue Fairy turns him into a real flesh and blood boy - a real son for the lonely old woodcarver. This story is so popular it has world wide translations and sales greater than all other non-religious texts!

The Make A Scene team have cleverly come up with the idea of pairing this funny, sad, scary and beautiful tale with the classic theatrical form Commedia dell'Art and have hit on perfection! Watching this production of Pinocchio it looks as if this is always how the story was meant to be told.

In many respects it should not be a surprise that this piece of classic Italian literature would meld so beautifully with Commedia - after all, they are cultural ancestors - but to see it before us is a marvel. What is also a marvel is the way the team have managed to make what could be dried up, outdated content and technique come across as so modern and fresh (and unutterably hilarious!).

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. Circus is experiencing a renaissance and the clowning tradition is strong in our industry. What is Commedia but the highest form of clowning? Make A Scene have perfectly allocated the classic Commedia characters of Arlecchino, Pantalone, and Il Capitano (Pinocchio, Geppetto, and la Volpe) and there is even a cameo for an audience member to come on stage as Colombina (il Gatto).

There is lots of audience participation as sound effects and ad hoc characters (although Jiminy Cricket doesn't appear and, perhaps more surprisingly, really isn't missed in this production). At it's heart though, this production is a celebration of puppetry. The show links the technique of theatrical mask to the art of puppetry. Pinocchio takes us across the realms of mask, stringless marionettes, hand puppets, finger puppets, and shadow puppets (sans silhouette...).

The techniques slip seamlessly from one to the other within the confines of a puppet booth (a la the Puncinella tradition which became the Punch and Judy show) and out in the open stage and even, at times, into the audience. There are walls and they are constantly broken and I couldn't help wondering if this is what Brecht was exploring with his ideas on gestus and alienation...?

Bagin's direction is flawless but it would all come to nothing if Foley wasn't so incredible at what he is doing. His mask work and transitions are perfection and keep the story moving along at a good pace. Perhaps my one criticism is with a running time of 80 minutes it feels a little long for younger audiences and I did detect a bit of restlessness at around the hour mark although it quickly settled back down as Foley weaved his magic and kept us all laughing and oohing and aahing.

Kent's design is a wonder and the puppet booth is a gift which keeps on giving. It is like a Sarah Lee dessert with "layer upon layer" of secrets to be revealed. Newman's masks are also a wonder to behold. So evocative and detailed and embodying the Commedia traditions whilst also telling the story of Pinocchio.

Make A Scene have chosen to follow the story of this little wooden boy according to Collodi's original writings so it has some moments which are darker than a modern aesthetic generally allows. Some people will not like this at all, but I think when you present history you should present it faithfully so as brave as it is, I loved it. The world is not a Disney movie.

I really cannot speak too highly of this fantastic version of Pinocchio. If you don't see it you will miss one of the greatest things ever staged. It is a children's story but there is so much in it for adults! Oh, and it is bilingual but don't worry, you will be fine if you don't speak Italian and you may even come away knowing a word or two yourself.

5 Stars

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