THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO
Artrix, Bromsgrove, Sunday 12th January, 2020
For their tour this winter, the remarkable Oddsocks turn to Carlo Collodi’s classic for children about a sentient puppet who longs to be a real grown-up. Written and directed by Andy Barrow, this adaptation is fairly faithful to the source material while remaining an undeniably Oddsocks production. Puppets are a key ingredient of every Oddsocks show. With this story, they take centre stage. As ever, there is the comical inventiveness, the slapstick, the wit and overt theatricality – something for everyone. Adults will revel in the meticulously ramshackle production values and the arch humour, while children become so engaged with the story-telling they shout out, almost involuntarily, advice to the protagonist. I have seen many, many Oddsocks shows, and they’ve all been fun, but this is the one that has proved most absorbing for youngsters. Perhaps they identify with Pinocchio’s struggle to become a moral being and a productive member of society.
In the title role, Freya Sharp gives a far from wooden performance. Her Pinocchio is a naughty boy, bursting with energy and cheeky charm. Sharp brings clownish physicality to the role, especially early on when Pinocchio is finding his feet.
Andy Barrow appears as Pinocchio’s maker, Geoff Petto (the ‘off’ has dropped off), looking like Einstein’s grandfather but able to match Sharp in terms of physicality. With only four in his cast, Barrow has to appear in many other roles, including the con-artist Fox and a big-bellied impresario, gloriously named Andrew Floyd Mackintosh.
Jeannie Dickinson is excellent as the Fairy, the con-artist Cat, and I love her Harlequin’s rendition of Puppet On A String. Danny Hetherington is equally great, appearing as the Cricket, the Policeman, and naughty boy Lampwick – among other roles. The episodic nature of the plot demands quick changes and versatility from everyone involved.
There are many scene changes, with a set that opens up, revolves and transforms before our very eyes and while we wait – but these transitions are part of the deal, part of the fun. We may have seen the old two-lengths-of-blue-fabric-form-a-seascape shtick before, but I guarantee you won’t have seen a giant white shark like this one this side of Steven Spielberg! There are some hilariously gruesome (yet still suitable for kids) special effects, like when Pinocchio falls asleep too close to the fire; and the nose-growing effect made my ribs ache.
Vanessa Anderson’s costumes are another hugely enjoyable part of proceedings, instantly conveying character and encapsulating the Oddsocks spirit of silliness.
Barrow keeps the bonkers nature of Collodi’s story, while tempering the darker aspects and the moralising. The result is a highly satisfying piece for all the family. This is theatre at its most fun, in terms of form and content, which is what Oddsocks is all about.