Society: Greenwich Theatre (professional)
Venue: Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill, Greenwich, London
Credits: TWOWC - Based on Novel by Joan Aiken. Adapted by Russ Tunney. Pinnochio - Based on the Tale by Carlo Collodi. Adapted by Anthony Clark.
Author: Chris Abbott
Performance Date: 15/08/2021
Chris Abbott | 16 Aug 2021 15:47pm
All photos: Lidia Crisafulli
There is no shortage of stage, TV and film versions of Pinocchio although the story has never really entered British popular culture except perhaps in the Disney version. The most recent UK stage version used the Disney songs on the National Theatre’s Lyttleton stage, but failed to really make its mark.
Anthony Clark’s version, now to be seen at Greenwich Theatre, is much more successful, and all the better for concentrating on some key episodes and concepts. The original novel is long, rambling and quite dark in tone, but Clark knows that the key events to include are the boy/puppet transformation, the growing nose, and the journey to redemption through self-knowledge. James Haddrell’s production is sure-footed and moves rapidly, covering mainly the creation of Pinocchio, the puppet theatre and the relationship with the other children: episodes like the fox and the cat and being swallowed by the sea creature are included but only briefly. The young audience were quickly drawn in to the action by spotting how one child is cheating in the opening game, and they remained attentive throughout.
Design by Greenwich panto-regular Cleo Pettitt is a triumph, the costumes in particular working exceptionally well to create character and tell the story (although I was less convinced by the make-up). The set contains hints both of the fairground and the sea creature, with a structure that could be a roller coast track or a skeleton. No programme credit is given for the excellent puppets, so I am assuming Cleo Pettitt is responsible for those as well, not to mention the talking, moving log which grabbed the attention of the audience at the beginning.
The jolly songs composed by actor/musician David Haller help to move the story along, and he also contributes a number of strong cameo performances. An unusually low-key Anthony Spargo gives a heartfelt performance as a downcast Gepetto, but seems to be more in his element in a brief appearance as a tyrannical schoolmistress. Adam Karim as Volpino and Reice Weathers as Fellino command the stage as fox and cat, and interact well with the audience; although in this version they are only slightly villainous.
Alice De-Warrenne is a hard-working performer and almost manages to persuade this reviewer that adult actors playing little children need not always be excruciating. As Grillo, the cricket, Serin Ibraham is a confident puppeteer although not all of her lines are clear as she speaks very quickly. The cricket puppet, too, would benefit from eyes with a central point; the large blank circles tend to give a blind effect (apart from when they were lit up briefly). In the title role, Cassandra Hercules gets the audience on her side quickly and always convinces as a puppet brought to life.
Although story-telling is mostly secure, I didn’t realise they were in the sea creature until they escaped it from it and Pinocchio’s transformation to a real boy is very sudden; but there is an awful lot of story to fit in, even in this adaptation.
It was good to be back at Greenwich Theatre and that was a feeling obviously shared by many in the audience. Pinocchio runs to 5 Sep, in repertoire with the same cast in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and can be highly recommended as an excellent summer holiday outing with a strong moral element around friendship, saying sorry and being grateful.