Pinocchio: A Fantasy of Pleasures

Austin McCormick’s Company XIV
New Town Theatre

Company XIV are the stuff baroque dreams are made of. Dipping their poised toes into the fairytale of Pinocchio they have come out with something every bit as dark and dripping with seductive power as their 2008 fringe hit The Judgement of Paris.

Once again director/choreographer Austin McCormick presents us with a bouquet of exquisite dancers, a luminous-voiced soprano and the heady glut of Zane Pihlstrom’s fine lace, silk and leather costumes, but, just as in Judgement, his dark vision slowly peels back the layers of intoxicating beauty to reveal a disturbing core at the heart of this tale of hollow pleasure seeking.

Jay Donn makes an elegantly awkward Pinocchio, knock-kneed, boundless in energy and beautiful when duetting with the heavenly Laura Careless as the Blue Fairy. But the courtly beauty is unsettled from the outset by little touches – the gusto of an imposing leather-clad narrator, the slow sad stride of streetwalkers picking up the dead Blue Fairy’s body – even before Pinocchio hops on the cart to Pleasure Island, a place of distinctly adult pleasures which disappear with a flourish of violence when the money runs out.

Behind what is undeniably a feast of visual and aural treats there seems to be a very dark and very contemporary parallel with the grooming of the vulnerable into exploitation; the image of donkey-boy Pinocchio cowering, too terrified to perform for the island’s ringmaster, is truly horrible.

But Company XIV’s talent here is to give us something which isn’t black and white, where the lines between glamour and seediness, love and desire, gaudiness and real beauty are all a dizzy blur. It is testament to their conjuring that on a stage full of contemporary touches – stilettos and short skirts - when the dancers turn, slow and stretched, their flesh picked out by Gina Scherr’s warm buttery lighting to the pure crystal of Lauren Michelle Criddle’s voice it feels as if a painting by one of the great Renaissance masters has come to life.

Reviewer: Lucy Ribchester

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