Every year, families spend huge amounts of money for tickets to the local panto, dragging along their entire family. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds pantos a very cringey and rather unsatisfying experience, though one you have to suffer through nonetheless.
This weekend, Guildford Fringe presents Pinocchio Gets Wood, a summer panto. Though earlier than you might expect to watch a panto, it is very typical in most respects — except that this is NOT the sort of panto that you want to bring the kids too!
Pinocchio Gets Wood is an online adult panto, which gives a unique spin on the classic children’s tale. Set in the town of Wiley Cyrus, Dame Ciabatta M’Flange, owner of an adult toy store, crafts a boy out of a wooden dildo to teach her daughter (Juliate M’Flange) the joys of being a woman!
This production takes on all of the stereotypical traits of a panto: the busty Dame, a dastardly villain, a woman as the romantic male lead, pop songs turned into musical numbers, and some serious breaking of the third wall. It’s still all very cringey, but this time everyone’s in on the joke, a parody of a true pantomime with the tongue inserted quite firmly into the cheek.
Full of euphemism, as well as outright vulgarity, this is a truly witty and fantastically enjoyable show with expert comedic performances from the limited cast of four, though the star is of course Daniel Page, who plays the show’s Dame Ciabatta M’Flange. Page shows us exactly how to hold an audience with expert timing and turn-on-a-dime reactions, as well as displaying amazing vocal dexterity with his bouts of verbal regurgitation throughout the show.
Rachel Warrick-Clarke, who multiple roles: the Blue Fairy, Juliate and the henchperson Herpes, is superb and really brings the singing vocals to carry the musical numbers. Meanwhile, Andrew Franklin, who plays the villain Strong Boner, gives a nice edge to the show with his distinctive characterisation. Last but not least, Tamsin Lynes as Pinocchio is absolutely hilarious, with a prop piece that provided plenty of gags (even when it broke during this performance) and energy in bundles.
The script by James Chalmers is expertly written, leaving no stone unturned when it comes to crude and smutty words, putting us in fits of laughter throughout the performance. The perfect mix of light entertainment and satire, always keeping things topical to increase the humour with jokes around social distancing and pointing out that there is no live audience actually inside the theatre, as well as jokes on the audience members at home (using a questionnaire sent out before the show).
The feel is very much that of a drag show and this carries into the songs, by Nick Wyschna and Charlotte Bateup, which are perfectly selected and then turned upside down in a way you’ve never heard them before — I will never listen to ‘Bring Him Home’ the same way again! The Direction, also by Wyschna, is superb and allows the performers the time to really experiment on stage, whilst keeping the action moving in the style of slapstick or farce.
If you had asked me my opinion on panto before watching this performance, you may have seen me convulse slightly at the thought. But Guildford Fringe has converted me — even if it’s just for their annual adult panto. Admittedly, it’s maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who like a raucous evening of silly laughing and feeling naughty then this is the perfect show!
Pinocchio Gets Wood is on at the Guildford Fringe Theatre online until 12 September. For more information, visit the Guildford Fringe Theatre Company’s website.