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Theatre Review Pinocchio perfection

PETER MASON sees a new version of the classic children's story that ticks all the boxes

Pinocchio
National Theatre, London

BEAUTIFULLY wrought, and spellbinding in its execution, this Pinocchio reverses expectations.

In this version by Dennis Kelly, Pinocchio is played by a real person and some of the human characters, including Pinocchio’s father Geppetto, are represented by huge-headed puppets, each crafted in the spitting image of the actor who holds them aloft and gives them voice.

It’s a clever trick that allows the audience to focus interchangeably on either the puppet or its human embodiment with no loss of effect or drama.

And drama there is in spades. Directed by John Tiffany, this is a fairytale that never shies away from elements of darkness yet it's filled with magic at every step and offers the kind of immersive experience you’d only otherwise get as a small child buried in an exquisitely illustrated children’s book.

Every scene offers new delight as a mixture of technical wizardry and canny stagecraft conveys the strange toings and froings at the heart of Pinocchio’s almost hallucinatory story.

Many of the passages, including the journey to rescue Geppetto from a whale’s stomach and the final disappearance of the blue fairy, are so breathtaking and beautiful that they bring tears to the eye, not to mention gasps of audience appreciation.

And there’s humour in nicely measured amounts and wonderful music, with familiar songs from Walt Disney’s Pinocchio film that are used sparingly. Neither cloying nor overdone, they're a welcome part of the whole, bewitching piece.

David Langham puts in a magnificent performance as the dastardly fox in glam-rock boots who lures Pinocchio into trouble and Audrey Brisson, flitting elegantly around the floor with her Jiminy Cricket puppet, is brilliant in portraying Pinocchio's wise counsellor as a fussy hypochondriac.

In the lead role, Joe Idris-Roberts plays Pinocchio with just the right blend of selfish pig-headedness and cute innocence and the rest of the cast – not all of them blessed with huge experience – make a top-class contribution.

Good as the acting is, though, it’s just one of many ingredients that feeds into a highly successful mix of music, puppetry, dance, acting and technical sorcery.

For adults and children alike, it’s an end-to-end delight.
See it if you can.

Runs until April 10, box office: nationaltheatre.org.uk

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