Pinocchio Gets Wood

James Chalmers
Nick Wyschna
The Back Room of the Star Inn, Guildford

Rachel Warrick-Clarke (Blue Fairy), Daniel Page (Dame Ciabatta Myflange), Tamsin Lynes (Pinocchio) and Andrew Franklin (Strong Boner) Credit: Pinocchio Gets Wood

With social distancing prohibiting most theatres from opening, companies up and down the country are seeking new and innovative ways to keep the magic of theatre alive. One area that’s seen expansive growth is that of streaming and live broadcasts. Whilst St Helens Theatre Royal was the first to embrace the medium with Rapunzel: The Lockdown Panto on Instagram and Facebook Live, Pinocchio Got Wood holds the accolade of YouTube’s first public panto live broadcast.

When the company belts out the lyric “When I was a little girl, I had a dildo, the only cock I ever had” to open the show, the tone for the evening is well and truly set. Featuring smut, sex and vulgarity, this sixty-minute panto is lewd, crude and rude and certainly earns its 18 rating.

Set in the village of Wiley Cyrus, Dame Ciabatta Myflange wishes for nothing more than for her frigid daughter Juliet to lose her virginity. Fearful of lusty puppet master Strong Boner getting there first, she carves a dildo which is magically transformed into a wooden boy to help do the deed. Complete with extending appendage whenever telling a lie, Principal Boy Pinocchio teaches Juliet the pleasures of life and ultimately wins her hand in a storyline that narrowly escapes incest and concludes with a Grease-inspired transformation sequence.

In an age of #MeToo, asking the audience to help pressure Juliet to show Pinocchio her womanhood does sit rather uncomfortably alongside a storyline which involves Strong Boner’s desire to deflower her and jokes that reference Epstein. But in adult panto, ethics, taste and morality are thrown out the window. Here, the carnivalesque reigns as the bawdy, outrageous and inappropriate take aim at the so-called woke generation.

James Chalmers’s script is bursting with anatomical and intercoursal jokes, puns and sketches. Almost every other line is peppered with pertness in a panto that is more in-your-end-hoe than innuendo and brings new meaning to the in-yer-face generation of playwrights. Whilst such explicitness tires after time and loses its impact, there are some truly inventive crudities that make great use of the English language’s homophones, homonyms and grammatical structures. A particular highlight is a Schoolroom Sequence that sees a register full of eyebrow-raising surnames read aloud which are later combined for comic effect to describe the students’ bad behaviour.

Over 50 viewing parties logged on to participate in the livestreaming as the multi-rolling cast of four performed their roles with great gusto live from their regular venue The Back Room of the Star Inn, Guildford. Whilst nothing can replicate the experience of attending the theatre, some level of interactivity is ensured as a questionnaire is distributed beforehand and audience responses integrated into the evening's entertainment. Real-time posts on Twitter and Instagram were all encouraged, with YouTube comments popping up on the screen as the audience reacted to the show. Much fun was had by the cast as they dropped in an audience member’s name as ‘straight to camera’ replaced the customary knowing aside. Acknowledging that the usual frame of live performance had been dispensed with in favour of technology heightened the comedic aspect and provided further opportunities for fun stemming from the realisation that no applause would ever come and the cast would have to rely on the crew for pantomime's obligatory call and response.

Yes, the show’s resolution comes faster than a stag in season and Strong Boner’s plotline to eradicate men by using Pinocchio to lure them to a lair isn’t truly finished off, but the audience clearly isn’t here for dramatic integrity. Coronavirus jokes are lapped up, rude gestures celebrated and indecency lauded. Putting the gag into gag reflex, Pinocchio is the adult panto that comes at you thick and fast.

Reviewer: Simon Sladen