Pinocchio, freshly crafted and finding his feet in Geppetto’s dusty workshop, couldn’t be more at home at the Little Angel Theatre, where puppetry routinely diverts “real” boys and girls. In fact, as we watch Geppetto choose the perfect block of wood for his new project and begin to shape it, there is a palpable sense of the craftsman revealing his tools. The finished wooden boy, lying spot-lit on a table upstage, is then animated by three puppeteers dressed as brown-coated workmen who emerge from the shadows behind him. Tremulously he stands, evoking Bambi more than his own Disney namesake as he wobbles, stumbles and tumbles. Voiced by Lori Hopkins, Pinocchio has a distinct, boisterous character of his own in a script created by Angela Miguel from Carlo Collodi’s nineteenth century children’s novel. His nervous puffing turns to shrieks of delight as he masters his spindly wooden legs and begins to skip across the stage. The confines of Geppetto’s workshop are soon exhausted and Pinocchio is eager to explore further, an enthusiasm which concerns his protective “papa”. The relationship between Pinocchio and Geppetto is affectionately portrayed, with the puppet hanging adoringly from his maker’s torso like an infant, legs dangling, before he sets out for his first day at school.
However, this journey will take Pinocchio far from the school gates, into a strange world in which several of the most surreal creatures from the original novel are brought to life. Collodi’s blue fairy is eerie and ethereal. Part flower, part woman, the puppet is slightly redolent of a cartoon extra-terrestrial. She floats to Pinocchio’s aid but her presence is initially chilling. However, it is the puppet incarnations of real-life animals which are most entertaining. A goat bleats loudly, waggling its fleece. During the production I watched, it reared its nose energetically in the face of a little girl in the front row who giggled uncontrollably. Two villains of the narrative, a well-to-do but conniving fox and his accomplice, Madam Cat, likewise amused the adults in the audience with some entertaining asides as they desperately tried to outwit Pinocchio. However, while such characters are arguably good fun, the play seems to rush a little through the events in Collodi’s book, meaning that some scenes lack context and we don’t completely follow the action. Pinocchio’s nose grows briefly in one scene as he tells a lie, but this occurrence is only integrated into the wider play with regard to other undesired mutations, such as a scene in which the puppet is unwittingly transformed into a donkey.
Peter O’Rourke’s production fuses roughly-hewn cardboard masks and wooden puppetry to create a dreamlike landscape rooted in the earthy materials of wood, wool, paper and string. Inventive light projections emphasise this in the second act, when projected grains of wood pass across a makeshift linen screen to form hills, paths and finally rippling water. This forms the backdrop to Pinocchio’s race to find Geppetto and save him from the belly of the blue fish. Against the action, a pleasing and rather resourceful soundtrack by Pete Flood incorporates unusual percussion such as the clanging of cowbells. While the narrative is at times patchily stitched together, Pinocchio as a character is engaging, and was certainly expertly puppeteered. As testimony to this, the children in the audience remained fidget-free and happily attentive throughout.
Pinocchio is playing at the Little Angel Theatre until 27 January 2013. For more information and tickets please see the Little Angel Theatre website.