This review was originally written for Animations Online
Mixing mask and rod puppetry, this Little Angel Theatre production charts the journey of one of the world’s best known puppets from wood to flesh. The Disney version of ‘Pinocchio’ is definitely the most familiar but this play feels a little different, not least because the talking cricket isn’t around. The ever-growing nose for which the notorious liar is infamous is also barely a feature here, referred to only once in a slightly psychedelic episode with the blue fairy.
This is very much a children’s production with straightforward language and a simplified plot but, like all Little Angel shows, its sweetness is shot through with the darkness of the original fairytale. The Islington based theatre often offers brilliant antidotes to the more saccharine entertainment that’s aimed at kids.
Pinocchio’s adventures on the way to becoming a real boy get increasingly sinister and the characters he meets are decidedly dubious – from a thieving cat and fox duo out to do him harm, to a mysterious man with an expanding head who steals him away and turns him into a donkey. This uncomfortable transformation from hapless boy into circus animal is a highlight.
Pinocchio himself is a pared down but very handsome rod puppet, carved from pale wood and operated by three people. The masks worn by the actors to represent various human and avian creatures are over-sized papier mache affairs, all with enormous noses and one sporting a particularly long and luxurious beard of tangled orange wool. The rod operated animal puppets – goats and cows, as well as the cat and fox – are brightly coloured, large and stylised. While the big fish that swallows Geppetto is the simplest of bended blue sticks.
The specially recorded soundtrack for the play is the handiwork of Pete Flood from Bellowhead and helps tie loose ends together with its repeating motifs. Reduced down into a few simple scenes, a lot of the action goes unexplained and the story feels episodic rather than flowing. But perhaps this lack of detail and depth doesn’t matter in a bizarre Alice in Wonderland like world where wooden boys can become flesh and blood.