Adapted from Carlo Collodi’s story by Angela Miguel
Little Angel Theatre
We are in Geppetto’s workshop on a cold winter night. He is choosing the wood from which to make a marionette and he begins to carve it.
The woodcarver himself is not a puppet but played by one of the puppeteers wearing a mask and this production's four puppeteers all at times play human characters in masks (with the masks sometimes getting larger and larger). They wear brown coats and black flat caps that blend with the wooden set without hiding the fact that they are operating the puppets.
When the completed marionette lies lifeless while Geppetto goes off to find cords for his strings, the puppeteers’ faces hover questioningly over his limbs before gradually reaching out to raise them one by one and begin the process that brings him to life and introduces him into walking and running. At the same time of course they are introducing those new to this kind of puppet to the style conventions within which they work.
When Geppetto returns he finds his creation doesn’t need strings. It seems alive without them and soon he has named it Pinocchio and is treating him like the son he never had. The woodcarver goes out and sells his coat so that he can buy a book for Pinocchio and then sends him off to school. That’s when Pinocchio’s adventures begin.
All the main incidents of Collodi’s story are briefly included: distracted from school by a puppet show, Pinocchio entrapped by the fox and the cat (even though they are baddies they are delightful), being turned into a donkey and working in a circus, the blue fairy (not Disney’s pretty presence but a creature whose bottom blooms into a blossom) and Pinocchio’s nose growing longer when he doesn’t tell the truth, the search for Geppetto who is swallowed by a whale.
This Pinocchio, voiced by Lori Hopkins, may be naughty and rude but young audiences will recognize themselves and won’t notice the way the script jumps from situation to situation with little motivation.
It is a pity we don’t see any of the puppet show performance and no more than the donkey part of the circus—more effort goes into installing a puppet show sign and the circus audience.
As so often, some of the best things are the simplest. A puppeteer in a mask becoming a camp cockney crow that carries Pinocchio in search of Geppetto, a rod that turns into the whale to swallow Geppetto and eventually, when Pinocchio has proved he’s a good boy, his transformation into a real boy is magically effective it is so simple. Until then, apart from his time as a donkey, Pinocchio is unclothed and undecorated, a bare wooden puppet.
I couldn’t help thinking that Geppetto would have clothed him to send him to school; just think of appearing in a classroom naked! But it does emphasise his vulnerability and innocence and the simple wooden limbs and the way they are connect are always on view to remind us that he is a puppet against the “reality” of all the other characters.
Highlight for me are a couple of goats—just a head and a pelt on a puppeteer’s arm—that are utterly charming. They are a wonderful demonstration of the operator’s skill as the angle of a head or a sudden quirky movement brings out real character as they inquisitively investigate Pinocchio or the front row.
Lori Hopkins’s fellow performers are Johnny Dixon, Stewart Fraser and Mandy Travis. Design, direction and puppet making is by Peter O’Rourke, the unfolding set is dramatically lit by Sarah Cowan and the music by Peter Flood is delightful.
This show is intended for 6 years old and upwards and children under 6 will not be admitted. Check web site www.littleangeltheatre.com for days of performance.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton