There are many things to discover and relish in Covent Garden. Being the heart of the city’s tourism with its rustic, creative flavour and the onlooking Opera House there are numerous ways to be distracted in the square – not to mention by crowd-hungry street entertainers who’ll try and lure you into their net. And to think that in the middle of the madness, inside St Paul’s Church, Iris Theatre manages to create some simple theatre magic every year. This year they enchant us once more in the midst of the church gardens with Pinocchio in a version that offers a little more flesh and darkness than Disney’s polished re-telling of Carlo Collodi’s beloved story.

Daniel Winder’s adaptation of the classic story takes us deeper into the tale of the toy who wanted to be a real boy. Geppetto loses his son to the plague and tries to cope by making a toy that will replace the sorrow of losing his boy. When the blue fairy sees his work she decides to breathe life into Pinocchio so that Geppetto won’t be lonely anymore. But playing with life has its consequences and Pinocchio is far from the perfect son – he is impetuous, rude and mischievous and follows his impulses instead of listening to reason. As he lies his nose grows – because according to Mr. Cricket some lies have long noses and Pinocchio therefore must learn how to be a good boy. It’s not easy though in a world full of temptation and possibilities and the brass boy continually gets himself into trouble until he finally learns what it means to be human.

The charming setting of St Paul’s Church creates a special atmosphere around the play that naturally lends itself to a fable. As we are led through the grounds and the story we encounter the wonderfully mad characters as well as Amber Scarlett’s joyful and imaginative set. Geppetto’s workshop is quirky and fascinating with its little nicks and knacks and Alicia Britt’s puppets are delightfully inventive. As the evening progresses and the lights dim the grounds are transformed into something rather magical with its lights and frolics, and the madness of it all is something that would easily enchant a younger audience. Nick Pack’s Pinocchio is energetic, ruthless and spontaneous and he creates a version of the boy that evokes both love and frustration. The rest of the cast double up characters like mad and make the night fun for young and old – Simon Kent’s Lampwick is especially hilarious and heart-breaking as he turns into the depressed donkey.

Daniel Winder’s direction is dynamic and fun and with Candida Caldicot’s sweet composition Pinocchio is a play that warms your heart. It’s a fun experience, mainly for the youngest ones who will really emerge themselves in Pinocchio’s world and troubles, but it’s also highly enjoyable for the grown-ups. If you want a joyful, simple and sweet evening in the warm(ish) summer in the heart of Covent Garden, this is the place to be.

Pinocchio is playing at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden until 29 August. For tickets and more information visit Iris Theatre website. Photo by Iris Theatre.