People’s images of the character of Pinocchio are likely to conjure up largely those of long noses and animation, but Jasmin Vardimon’s play takes the story back to its Italian roots, away from Disney. It’s a new spin that uses the old. This piece focuses on what it means to be human. Pinocchio goes on a journey away from his carpenter-father and returns home to him as a new and validated human being, having learnt about emotions like fear, anger, sadness and loneliness.

The production opens with one of the genius creations of Vardimon, a narrator made from six hands in white gloves, illuminated into a talking face. It is unbelievably effective and brings joy every time it appears in the play. Having said this, every single scene is its own creation of incredible genius. A particularly charming one is when an old couple is sitting at the pub eating, drinking and laughing together. The twist is, the faces of this couple are actually two pairs of feet with faces drawn onto them. The dexterity of these dancers is awe-inspiring. Coordinated and skilful, the scene passes seamlessly as they share drinks and books, culminating in a Lady and the Tramp-inspired spaghetti kiss before they roll offstage. You cannot stop smiling.

The set can also not escape a mention. Designed to function also as a marionette theatre, the dancers become puppets at times in incredible performances of unity and cooperation. There’s even a moment when a couple flies over while sitting at a table drinking beer nonchalantly, as if it is the most everyday activity in the world to perform 10-metres high.

With a whirlwind of emotions to portray, Vardimon conjures up each and every one incredibly well. There are poignant moments, such as when Pinocchio returns to his father and performs the same wooden childlike dance as in the opening. There are frightening moments, like when the boy is chased by assassins and one man’s arm is made of eight dancers’ arms, which is scary, impressive and visually powerful. That is one of the attractions of this piece, actually; the incredible cooperation between the dancers. At times, they form an incredible human-wheel, using each other’s weight as they rotate almost like a giant clock. Of course, the nose itself when Pinocchio lies is a beautiful array of hands stretching out of his face.

Vardimon’s Pinocchio is a rollercoaster of experiences enwrapped in charm and poignancy. It allows us to take a step back and remind ourselves of the shared experiences that bind us all no matter how different we are externally.

Pinocchio played at Sadler’s Wells Theatre until October 28 2017.

Photo: Tristam Kenton