THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO
by Russell Dean adapted from Carlo Collodi.
Tour to 12 February 2012.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 December at The Stables Wavendon.
A story and a community created with inventive masks and soundscape.
They’re well-named, this theatre company from Kent. The story may be familiar, the acting might have seemed stereotypical, but all is transformed by Strangeface’s masks, their cartoon-like features determining the style of movement and speech.
Yes, the masks suggest, this old Italian woman with the long grey hair would lollop along like that, shoulders shrugging. The mayor, Signor Cherry, would be so expansive in gesture and voice, when he brings woodcarver Geppetto a log for his work.
Yet Strangeface go beyond simple humorous effect. That exists – in the way, even before being carved out of the log, Pinocchio shouts insults at the departing mayor, causing a quarrel with Geppetto. Exacerbating this, he swings his pre-carved self at them both; trouble from the first, that one.
How well, subsequently, Sarah Mardel captures Pinocchio’s moments of stillness, and the inflexibility of the young creature’s arms. Then, with bare limbs humanising the figure, her flexible movements show the carving achieving humanity.
Familiar elements help sketch out the little wood thing’s path to humanity, the maturing towards personal and social responsibility. There’s one well-handled moment of nose-lengthening through a lie, enough of Lampwick and his donkey transformation to make the point about the Peter Pan-like refusal to take life’s challenges.
Lampwick is lost; his donkey-head becomes complete, while Pinocchio’s told he can still change. Other productions have taken such aspects theatrically further, and while Russell Dean’s adaptation makes a lot of the felonious fox and cat, it’s as predatory humans, sophisticates looking to steal Pinocchio’s money, Samuel Davies and Roxanne Palmer emphasising the pair’s languid, drawling smoothness.
There’s equally good work from Christopher Hawes’ Geppetto, the earnest craftsman. It’s in the final meeting of maker and model, in the belly of the sea-monster that’s been threatening the plays’ coastal town, where Pinocchio develops from Jonah to saviour, earning human status.
Mark Dean’s music and live, amplified sounds include this monster’s growl, while the huddled town’s two-dimensionality intensifies the imaginative world. There are places the narrative focus might sharpen a little, but Strangeface use theatrical colour to provide a definition of human responsibility and potential.
Signor Cherry/Puppet Booth/Fox/Spirit Doctor/Puppet Master’s Minion: Samuel Davies.
Geppetto/Landlord/Spirit Doctor/Puppet Master: Christopher Hawes.
Pinocchio/Margarita: Sarah Mardel.
Susanah/Lampwick/Puppet Master’s Minion/Cat/Blue Fairy: Roxanne Palmer.
Musician: Mark Dean.
Director: Ashley Dean.
Designer/Masks/Puppets: Russell Dean.
Lighting: Sean Connor.
Composer: Mark Dean.
Costume: Carol Dean.