The Adventures of Pinocchio at the Ambassadors Theatre
The truths in the retelling of Pinocchio, now at the Ambassadors Theatre, are ones that we’re used to hearing in contemporary musicals. Distancing itself from the darker shadows of Carlo Collodi’s 19th-century tale, and reaching closer to Walt Disney’s version, this family-friendly show, acted by a rotating cast of 17 teams of young actors trained by the British Theatre Academy, manifests robust energy, visual flair, but lets itself down with tired use of old tropes.
This is frustrating. We all know the story, so why adapt it to make it feel yet more sanitised and clichéd? Bronagh Lagan, the director, presents the story as it’s been told before. A lonely woodcutter, Geppetto (Martin Neely, one of the cast’s two professional leads, alongside Lizzie Rees as the Blue Fairy), carves a surrogate son out of a piece of wood. But once walking and talking, that boy, Pinocchio (Nathaniel Purnell), grows curious about the outside world and lands himself into trouble. En route he meets and is variously manipulated by an array of characters: Fox (Zane Heath), Cat (Matilda Hopkins) and an excellently portrayed greedy puppet master (Tabitha Knowles).
Nathaniel Purnell is a truly charismatic presence on stage, a good dancer and a talented singer. Tabitha Knowles is the highlight, as it is interesting to see the character traditionally known as Mangiafuoco, an old wicked man, taken on by a young teenage girl; that she pulled it off is testament to her versatility. This is a rare example of the show’s originality. More of it, please.
Nik Corrall’s sets have a pop-up book aesthetic, though they often seem stranded between two and three dimensions, given the use of both puppet projections and actual furniture and scenery.
There are overfamiliar elements to this well-known story, and the quickness of pace is exhausting – though likely to keep children on their feet. Still, what the production lacks in polish and originality it makes up with enthusiasm and heart.
Photo: Roy Tan
The Adventures of Pinocchio is at the Ambassadors Theatre from 28th July until 30th August 2017. Book your tickets here.