Thursday, December 15, 2011


Common Ground Theatre Company at the Seckford Theatre Woodbridge

Common Ground's take on Pinocchio was never going to be bland or banal. Julian Harries and Pat Whymark share a fertile, fevered imagination, and this version of the Collodi classic is often surreal and frequently very silly indeed.

We begin with a Fellini-esque framing narrative, with a troupe of acrobats – the Flying Calzonis. There is a mishap during the risky Triple Whopper, young Pietro falls senseless to the sawdust, and it is his dream which takes us into the familiar story of the "pine-cone" puppet who longs to be a real boy.

Joseph Reed is a cheerfully na├»ve Pietro/Pinocchio – a lively presence on stage; his first steps as the puppet a wonderfully physical expression of joy and freedom. In his adventures, he is constantly thwarted by the Mighty Mozzarelli [a very big cheese in the village] whose megalomaniac schemes include the Pleasure Palace offering "fast food and cheap thrills". A typically OTT creation from Julian Harries, exuding evil as he strokes his fluffy little bird of prey: this Geordie Health and Safety Owl is responsible for much of the sublime silliness in the show.

The other members of the circus family – Tracy Elster's Serafina, Josh Overton's Salvatore and Stefan Atkinson's Giuseppe – take on all the other characters, notably the very irritating giant cricket, the sinister cat and the Blue Fairy, on her Enchanted Scooter.

The wordplay and festive fun will be familiar to fans of the Christmas Shows at the Sir John Mills – the chocolate thermometer, Nanny's goat jokes, the Pole Cats. Dentistry something of a theme, with Pinocchio's dad offering treatment to the dead sailors in the belly of the shark. Pat Whymark's music – and Julian's evocative accordion – are crucial to establishing mood and atmosphere, and there are some very catchy numbers, too – Eat Your Greens, and Don't Wake the Sausage Farmer for instance.

This is pocket theatre, intimate and unplugged, and in the Seckford it maybe needed to be played a bit bigger, the puns pushed more shamelessly. On the first night there were some dropped stitches, frayed edges and loose ends. But also some glorious physical work, like the trapeze and Arlecchino's dilemma. And some wonderful flights of fancy, like the insecure luvvie puppets backstage, with Pulcinella miming the tea ...

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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