Pants On Fire Pinnochio[author-post-rating] (3/5 stars)

Oh Edinburgh. Where else but the Fringe are you going to see a Hammer Horror-inspired production of Pinocchio? It’s a somewhat baffling choice by Pants on Fire theatre company, and one that works sporadically. When it works, it’s a hilarious and very clever take-off of the over-the-top and, to modern eyes, ridiculous style of Hammer Horror movies. When it doesn’t work, it’s a confusing and muddled collection of images and stylistic choices that do very little for the story.

Gepetto begins as a kind of Dr. Frankenstein figure, crazed with grief by the sudden death of his wife and child, he carves a wooden puppet-child from a tree stump in his garden in the dead of night, much to the consternation of his busy-body neighbours. The boy inexplicably comes to life, although this might just be a symptom of Gepetto’s broken mind. It’s never made clear whether the whole story is in Gepetto’s head, but it is clear that he at least believes that the boy is real – a replacement for his dead son.

It’s a dark story, with Pinocchio having his feet burned off, being kidnapped repeatedly and and infamous morality tale where little boys who don’t want to go to school are turned into donkeys. So far, so familiar. But then we throw into the mix a giant, Hammer-esque puppet cricket, looming over two sweethearts about to get to second base and offering the wayward puppet-boy some much-needed advice. A lot in this show is left unexplained – how does Pinocchio know, for example, that he’s bored, or doesn’t want to go to school, when he’s newly hewn? Why the 1950s aesthetic and horror movie/sci-fi soundtrack and philosophising?

The thumping soundtrack is fun, as is the excellent (if home-made-looking) set design – all monochrome apart from the rainbow-bright Toy Land and the fairy godmother-figure’s blue hair. She’s confusing, too, especially when she steps in at the end to be Pinocchio’s new Mum. It’s very well acted, in an over-the-top way, by the hard-working cast, striking a nice balance between dark and funny. There’s some nice movement to represent the donkeys, and the whole play is hilarious as a knowing pastiche of the familiar tale. It’s not for kids though – the child behind whispered in confusion the whole way through.

There’s something of 1927’s The Animals and Children Took to the Streets about this production, although Pinocchio is not as slick. It can’t decide if it’s a straight re-telling of the story, a very dark exploration of a mind broken by grief, or a hilarious Hammer-esque parody. It does all of these bits well some of the time, but would be stronger if it concentrated on one or two of these elements and developed them a bit more. Imaginative and inventive, but also rather baffling.

Pants on Fire’s Pinocchio is at Pleasance Dome until 26 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.