Pinocchio

Reviewed by John Waite
A Charles Court Opera production
Playing at King’s Head Theatre until 7th January 2017

What is it with musical productions about characters with a problem proboscis? Hardly has Shostakovitch’s The Nose ended its run at the Royal Opera House, than Charles Court Opera (a somewhat smaller operatic operation..) brings its “boutique” version of Pinocchio to the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. And a rollicking, rib-tickling beaky-blinder of a production it is.

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From left – John Savournin, Matthew R J Ward, Joshua Da Costa. Image by Bill Knight

Fast-paced and highly colourful, Pinocchio is packed full of groan-worthy jokes, familiar tunes, audience sing-alongs and tips on taco making (you have to be there!). It’s also crammed with characters you won’t find in the Disney version – or the Carlo Collodi original come to that. That was penned, and took place, in Italy. For reasons best known to the writer of this show, however, Spain seems to be the setting  – with a hilarious Spanish magic wish-chicken sorting everything out in the end, and a moustachioed Iberian villain (strangely reminiscent of the Juan Sheet character in the Plenty paper towels tv ads) causing all the complications in the first place.

As is often the case with pantomimes, the villain steals the show – and El Tabasco, played on the night I saw the show by John Savournin, is no exception. Lots of eye-rolling and lip curling on his part was met by lots of delighted booing and hissing on ours. His luckless victim, Pinocchio, is performed by the very winning Joshua da Costa, who has one distinct advantage over other actors who’ve gone before him. He can retract his nose, and so, after he’s lied, he performs regular rhinoplasties on himself throughout the evening. The love interest is a snail called Shelly, whose several musical numbers are very melodiously accomplished by Malta-born mezzo Francesca Fenech. When I asked some of the youngsters in the audience who their favourite character was, however, they plumped for Donald the fluorescent, fifteen-foot long, talking Dogfish (so perhaps there is a Disney influence in there after all).

Another joy of this sparkling production is that the venue is so intimate, any seat is near the stage and so feels part of the action. The pace is hectic, the cast work hard, they clearly are having huge fun, and so, as a result, do we. With family matinees and special performances for the very young, this rip-roaring version of Pinocchio is not to be sneezed at – and that’s no word of a lie.

Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more information and to help give children’s theatre the voice it deserves, please visit our Patreon page.

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