Review: Pinocchio, National Theatre

The National’s new production of the timeless Italian classic, Pinocchio, is nothing short of magical. Written by Denis Kelly (Matilda the Musical) and incorporating the Walt Disney Soundtrack we see the beautiful tale come to life with mind-blowing puppetry, visual illusions and set-design.

Pinocchio follows the coming of age of wooden puppet as he explores the world after leaving his father, Gepetto (Mark Hadfield) looking for the thing that connects us all, driven by his desire to become real.

One of the first adventures he has it as Stromboli’s circus after he is sold to the flamboyant marionette-circus master with promises of fame and fortune. ‘You are about to see something you will refuse to believe’ announces Stromboli to the audience of his circus. Although he is referring to the magic of a puppet without strings, this line follows us throughout the whole play. There are several larger than life puppets such as Pinocchio’s father, Stromboli and the coach-master who takes Pinocchio to the island of pleasure. These giant-headed puppets are a mastery of design, distorting our sense of size against Pinocchio. It is only when you take a step back that you realise that Pinocchio is not actually the wooden one and the supposedly real characters are in truth wooden puppets. You are sucked into an illusion, questioning what is real.

This is not the only wonderful illusion in this play. Every scene drives forward with a supernatural energy conjuring up wonder after wonder. The play opens with a hovering, flickering blue flame that is Pinocchio’s spirit. In Pinocchio’s creation scene he is cleverly crafted out of a puzzle-like trunk of wood which he emerges from. When our protagonist ends up inside of a whale’s stomach undersea to rescue his father, the characters float, suspended along with our disbelief.

There is something for everyone in this little masterpiece. The characters of Gepetto and Jiminy Cricket (Audrey Brisson) are lovable and endearing, whilst the coachman and the fox are entertaining and spine-chilling in equal measure- exactly as a villain should be. The enchantments will enthral adults and children alike, with tasteful comedy to please both.

The emotional momentum of the play stems from Pinocchio’s intensely human desire to be real as he exhibits genuine emotions that are explained to him in such simple yet magnificent terms that our own human experience is elevated to a spectacle of large proportion. This is one of the classic coming of age tales about childhood, pain and love, known to many as a Disney animation, but boldly and reworked at The National with originality and overflowing charm.  

Pinocchio is playing at the National Theatre until 10th April. For more information and tickets, go to www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/pinocchio