REVIEW: PINOCCHIO, Colour House Theatre, September 12 2009

Gary Naylor

Carlo Collodi's novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio, is brought to life in Linda Kirby's energetic adaptation based on the timeless classic of Italian literature. With songs, heroes and villains, a little magic and a central moral that will please South London's parents as their children return to school after the long-summer break, Peter Wallder's production offers an hour of rich entertainment on the banks of the River Wandle, amongst the independent craft shops and eateries of Merton Abbey Mills.

Traditionalists' hearts will sink as the curtain rises, however, since the first character we meet is Geppetto's wife, who does not exist in the novel. Nevertheless, this device serves to allay any very twenty-first century fears over why an old single man would fashion a boy out of wood and, critically for a production designed for an intimate space and simple set, allows Pinocchio's mother to act as a narrator, updating the audience with events happening off-set and allowing much of the richness of Collodi's dizzying plotlines to come through.

Soon Pinocchio is cavorting like five year-old on a sugar rush, as he gives way to The Temptations placed before him by the evil Cat and Fox, very satisfactorily booed by the house. Having survived hanging (quickly passed over in the account of Cat and Fox's attempts to relieve Pinocchio of his money), Pinocchio is guided back to the straight and narrow by the Blue Fairy and the disembodied voice of the Cricket, before more adventures ensue as Pinocchio rescues Gepetto and narrowly escapes transmogrification into a donkey along with the truant Lampwick, another false friend. After learning his lessons about the need to obey and respect his parents and to be suspicious of those promising unlikely riches or pleasures, the Blue Fairy is convinced that Pinocchio is ready to be a real boy and grants his wish and they all live, as they do in the best tales, happily ever after.

It's a packed 60 minutes with perhaps a little too much fidelity shown to the novel, as Pinocchio's adventures pile one on top of the other, but the kids in the audience identify with the puppet's weakness in the face of promised wealth, sweets and fun and that's enough to bowl them on to the next scene. The parents in the audience are more likely to have come to the story through Walt Disney's beautiful and brutal 1940 animated feature. For them, this production's almost complacent tossing away of the film's two most celebrated scenes, Pinocchio's extending telescopic nose and Lampwick's transformation into a donkey, comes as a disappointment, but the kids were none the wiser and were keen to move on and hear more of the puppet's trials.

Just a few steps from the Merton Abbey's Watermill, the Colour House Children's Theatre has been presenting hour-long weekend shows for kids of all ages, since 1995. With Guy Debord's prescient comment that, "All that was once directly lived has become mere representation" running through my mind as I pondered just how much of my kids' lives (working and leisure hours) will be spent in front of a screen, perhaps the need to see how real actors in real spaces use theatre to effect real representation has never been greater. Pinocchio, with the question of what is real and true at the centre of its concerns, is as timely now as when Sr Collodi wrote the novel in 1883.

Pinocchio is at the Colour House Theatre, Merton Abbey Mills, Watermill Way, London SW19 2RD at 2.00pm and 4.00pm Saturdays and Sundays until November 15.

 


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