It is a real challenge to hold the attention of small children for a whole hour, but Hiccup Theatre make it look easy. Their delightfully energetic stage adaptation of the timeless adventures of Pinocchio effortlessly succeeds in keeping a young audience both enthralled and entertained, and they even manage to amuse the accompanying adults in the process.
The script is skilfully penned by children’s favourite Michael Rosen, author of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, and is injected with more than a large dose of sheer fun, without compromising on the didactic charm of the traditional story. The four actor-musicians telling the story encourage the audience to use their imagination before transporting them to an enchanting world in which a stool jumps around the stage like a frog and a miniature ironing board barks like a dog. Using puppetry, physical theatre and a wonderful array of musical instruments the hugely talented cast convey the story in a fresh and innovative way.
Ivan Stott delivers an altogether touching performance as Gepetto, the father who loves his son so much that he would willingly give up everything for him, and his vocal performance is outstanding, especially when he sings while playing the violin. Stott’s talent, however, doesn’t end there as he wrote all the songs in the show and they are both pleasingly melodic and toe-tappingly infectious. Edward Day’s Pinocchio is delightfully appealing. He has captured the freshness and energy of a young boy and his awestruck but totally naïve exploration into the world is beautifully portrayed. His physical expression and agility are mirrored by the somewhat uncanny, but skilfully animated, puppet that shadows his movements.
The other two cast members, Stephanie Butler and Dan Bottomley, each do a lot of hat-swapping as they take on various rôles including the charismatic con-artists Cat and Fox. They are both hugely multi-talented musicians, playing a harp and an accordion among other instruments, and Bottomley contributes to one of the most brilliant moments in the show when he plays Pinocchio’s new friend Candlewick. The two boys engage in imaginative play, shooting each other with their fingers and rolling around the stage pretending their guts are spilling out – a truly comical scene that would resonate with and greatly amuse every parent of young boys in the audience. There are many such scenes of brilliance, such as a miniature puppet opera and a mesmerising sequence depicting Pinocchio and Gepetto’s escape from the whale by the simple but ingenious use of a sheet and some red lighting.
Sarah Brigham’s direction is superb. Every prop is used in imaginative ways, with pliers representing fish and a violin doubling up as an oar. Barney George has designed an attractive yet simple set, with a cleverly versatile wooden cart representing everything from a Story Seller’s Junk Stall to Gepetto’s workshop and even the belly of a whale.
During the pantomime season, this show is a little different, but refreshingly so. It has a passionate energy from the outset that is maintained throughout and even though it is primarily children’s theatre, there is plenty here for adults too. If you can’t commandeer a small child to take with you, go all the same. It will most definitely be worth it.
I saw Pinocchio at Curve, Leicester on 10th December 2014
Originally written for http://www.thereviewshub.com and reproduced here with their permission