In which Pinocchio, the ‘prince of porkies’, now a middle-aged man in a tired tuxedo and Brylcreemed hair, tells us the truth about his life – if we are ready, willing and able to believe him.
And thus the well-known tale is retold by a five-strong team of vaudevillians – four actor-clowns, and a musician who plays a variety of instruments, including the intrinsically clownish melodeon. The musician also occasionally gets drawn into the physical action, to up ensemble numbers where needed.
For reasons not immediately clear to me – although I later guess that it is perhaps to set up the postmodern notion that Pinocchio’s story is one that mixes truth and lies, so how do we trust even the writer of the tale? – we learn that the puppet-boy is not, as we had been told, carved from a piece of wood by his father, but given birth to by a real live mother. Cue comedy birthing scene, never a highlight of any show (although the motherly waltz with a log of wood is tenderly funny).
But it gets better from there on in, as all the familiar elements of the story are revisited, with our point of view switching from older fleshed-out Pinocchio and his younger (puppet) self. The encounter with the Fox and the Cat is played out with merry banter and music hall aplomb; and the various appearances of the Blue Fairy portrayed very nicely by a white-faced young woman clown who has a perfect air of whimsicality.
There is a very sweet little shadow theatre scene that goes up a notch when the action moves onto a twirled umbrella – a lovely touch. For the most part, the ensemble give robust performances that incorporate elements of vaudeville, clown and commedia. The troupe appeared to be native English speakers (despite the company’s name), unless they were just very good at archetypal English accents – but why we have a ‘shut-uppa your face’ cod-Italian chef turning up to reinforce racial stereotypes I’m not quite sure… As there was no programme for the show, all this will remain a mystery to me.
The ploy of playing some scenes ‘straight’ (that is, as told in the original novel), with invented new ones thrown in to surprise us, I suppose makes sense dramaturgically in a show that sets out to explore if truth matters and whether ‘lying makes everything better’ as the older Pinocchio claims. But the strength of the original story shines through in the fact that it is often the invented scenes that seem the weakest. The exception being the ending, which is a poignant and beautiful play on the ‘real’ versus ‘the make-believe’. Ultimately, the most obvious pretence can be as truthful as can be, and a handful of scattered paper flowers as heartbreaking as a river of blood.
Verdict: a jolly romp, and an interesting new take on the Pinocchio story that isn’t perfect, but enjoyable nonetheless. A good Fringe show; an hour well spent.