theatre review: pinocchio
In a joint production, Windmill Theatre and the State Theatre Company of South Australia have undertaken an ambitious task: creating not only a new musical, but one that is also suitable for children. Pinocchio, written by Julianne O’Brien and based on the original children’s tale by Carlo Collodi, is a colourful production, full of energy, but it is not without its flaws.
O’Brien’s version tells the story of the wooden puppet boy Pinocchio (Nathan O’Keefe), carved with love by his father Geppetto (Alirio Zavarce). Pinocchio is spirited and disobedient, refusing to wear his father’s homemade wooden shoes and soon running away from home, meeting Fox (Derik Lynch) and Cat (Jude Henshall) along the way. His moral compass is provided in the form of Cricket, a puppet voiced and moved by Sam Routledge.
Rosemary Myers’ direction makes good use of the space, the actors moving on a revolving path centred around a magnificent set by Jonathon Oxlade. A large wooden structure rotates to become many different settings, from a house to an island to large shark. Coupled with animated projections by Chris More, the set becomes an integral part of the show and adds the visually appeal expected to entertain a young audience.
For a musical, the songs (by composer and musical director Jethro Woodward) and even the singers are nothing spectacular. The pieces are strongest when the ensemble sings together, their combined voices creating a rich sound that the individual cast members lack. Lyrically the songs are hard to decipher and at times seem somewhat irrelevant to the plot, doing little to advance story or character development
The play, and especially its plot, is clearer to those with knowledge of the original story, with O’Brien’s adaptations revealing themselves to be clever and modern. However, during the actual viewing the storyline’s many twists – taking us from a town to a magical play land where children turn into donkeys, to a sea journey leading to Strombollywood (the villain’s version of Hollywood), to a quest into the belly of a shark and back to the town again – quickly become confusing. This long journey does serve to teach Pinocchio his lessons about being truthful and good, but it is unnecessarily detailed even for an adult production.
O’Keefe’s Pinocchio is the highlight of the show. He uses his long body to great effect, creating the gangly and awkward movements that are expected from a wooden boy. Geoff Revell is sinister as bad guy Stromboli, although his singing voice is a little weak. Routledge’s puppetry is lively and his vocalisation is suitably cheeky. These characters are prominent enough to make up for a slightly underwhelming supporting cast, perhaps due more to script than their actual characterisation.
Catanzariti’s Blue Girl is a keen example of the unclear stories and characters in the script. Blue Girl appears at the beginning of the play crashing the motorcycle which she is riding, only to be discovered by Pinocchio on her own secret island during his sea adventure. Why she was riding the motorcycle is never clear, and nor is her current location (although it is hinted that she is in some sort of afterlife). When Pinocchio meets Blue Girl they sing a song about their supposed mutual attraction, something that was not present in their dialogue. This storyline is soon abandoned, only for Pinocchio to confess his love to the dead Blue Girl in the play’s closing moments. Confused? While Catanzariti is sweet as this jumbled character, the multitude of storylines does not allow her to shine.
There is humour for both adults and children in this show, with one reference to STDs pitched straight at the older audience. However, the intricate plot and lacklustre songs hint that 18 months of workshopping was not long enough for this production.
Pinocchio plays at the Dunstan Playhouse until July 28. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes with interval. Tickets from $29 at Bass.