Nearly There Yet’s adaptation of Pinocchio hinges on Geppetto’s wish for a son, rather than Pinocchio’s desire to be a real boy. This play, based on Carlo Callodi’s 1883 novel about the mischievous marionette whose nose grows when he lies, begins with the puppet coming to life, but what happens now that Geppetto’s dream has come true? Written by Mary Swan, Pinocchio is an unexpectedly tender meditation on parenting. Pinocchio is encountering the world for the first time; Geppetto is a father for the first time: they both have a lot to learn, and a lot of mistakes to make.
Geppetto (Umar Butt) and Pinocchio’s (Floria da Silva) journey might be relatable, but the specific struggles they encounter along the way are certainly not. A trusting Pinocchio is duped by a couple of con artists, setting him on a path that takes him further and further from his father. Fox (Rosie Rowlands) and Cat (Ed Stephen) are a double-act looking to make a quick buck so they can get to the city and start their showbiz career – their big entrance as dancing acrobatic burglars is a highlight of the show (and reminiscent of that other famous pair of singing, swinging criminal animals: Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer from Cats).
Nearly There Yet specialise in visual, physical theatre influenced by contemporary and traditional circus; movement and circus skills are not only cleverly deployed here but feel like a natural medium for telling this story. Da Silva brilliantly captures Pinocchio’s physicality – his puppet joints are extra flexible, his head is prone to flopping over without external support, and his limbs can be animated by those around him – as well as his childlike inexperience (like walking on his hands rather than his feet), the audience giggling each time he gets something a bit wrong. By the time Pinocchio meets Stromboli, though – not a wicked puppet master here, but a theatre manager with an eye for talent – he can balance on a ball while hula hooping dressed as a donkey, and supports fellow performers showcasing acts like juggling.
Every minute of this Pinocchio is jam-packed – there’s puppetry, projection, audience interaction, songs, dance, acrobatics – but this father-son story is as emotionally sophisticated as it is spectacular.
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