Presented by Windmill Theatre and State Theatre Company of SA
Based loosely on the book by Carlo Collodi, the nom de plume of Carlo Lorenzini (1826-1890), this is not a direct dramatisation, but an updated adaptation by Creator/Director Rosemary Myers and writer Julianne O'Brien. Like so many old fairy tales, intended as cautionary tales for children, the book is far darker than the sanitised and politically correct versions we know today, and nothing like the old Disney cartoon version. This production reflects some of that original darkness, falling part way between the two extremes. It is, thus necessary, to explain some of the original story in reviewing this production.
The first half of Collodi’s book was published as a weekly serial in Italy’s first children’s newspaper, beginning in 1880. It was later completed as a book in 1883, and its origins no doubt have a lot to do with the rather episodic nature of the tale. Consequently, this production is also a series of fragments and this seems to have made it a little difficult to follow for many of the younger people, who do not have the prior knowledge and understanding of the book. During the interval, and after the performance, parents were observed explaining various events and meanings.
The work begins by projecting images onto an enormous tree stump placed centre stage, as we discover that the fairy with azure hair is a blue biker, tearing across the countryside on her motorcycle, until a tree jumps out in front of her. At the same time a real blue lady on a motorcycle appears, floating in mid air on one side of the stage. Much later, we discover that she died in the crash, so perhaps that was intended as an obscure reference to her life after death existence; a human becoming a fairy/angel. Maybe this is also the link between her supernatural self, and the tree from which Pinocchio is created. Possibly I am reading too much into all of this, but I can see why the smaller members of the audience might have had some trouble following the story.
Geppetto, the lonely old woodcarver, longs for a son to love. One day, as he begins to work on a log from that same tree with his mallet and chisel, he hears a voice, and eventually realises that it is coming from this sentient piece of wood. He fashions it into a marionette and calls it Pinocchio. His new ‘son’ proves to be more than a handful, however, and the rest of the play covers his adventures, or misadventures, as he learns the difference between right and wrong.
Leading him astray are the Fox and the Cat, now named Kitty Poo. They actually behave more like his errant school friends, particularly Lampwick (or Candlewick, depending on the translation), rather than being the wicked thieves and assassins that they are in the book. From the Disney film, though, we have Stromboli, who is an amalgamation of a couple of characters in the book. He is an incredibly rich man, who initially tries to buy Pinocchio from Geppetto and, having his offers of cash rejected, he schemes to get hold of Pinocchio by foul means for the rest of the play.
Nathan O’Keefe was an obvious choice to play Pinocchio, with his great ability to create believable and convincing characters and, very importantly, his superb physicality, vital in portraying the role of a marionette. He endears himself to the audience, despite the character’s many faults. O’Keefe’s only prosthetic is a chunky wooden nose, which can be extended as needed. His imagination and talent provide everything else that he needs to turn himself into a believable wooden marionette. Judging by his enthusiastic and lively performance O’Keefe is clearly enjoying playing the naughty little puppet/boy and that carries over to the audience.
Alirio Zavarce plays the aging Geppetto, sporting a bushy moustache that he wiggles occasionally, making one immediately think of the marvellous English comedian and actor, Jimmy Edwards, who often waggled his trademark handlebar moustache to express particular emotions in a similar way. Zavarce is superb as the man with lots of love to give, and who gives it constantly, in spite of his son’s antics. Pinocchio manipulates him, deceives him, lies to him, runs away from him and, throughout it all, Vavarce convincingly portrays an ever loving and forgiving father, with great warmth infused in his performance.
Geoff Revell makes a very fine Stromboli, stopping just short of being the archetypal melodramatic villain. Had his moustache been a little longer one could almost imagine him twirling the ends. Although Stromboli is, ostensibly, the villain of the piece, he is continually foiled in his attempts, more by luck than good judgement on Pinocchio’s behalf. Revell gets plenty of laughs from his carefully judged performance, finding a balance between the evil side of his character, and the hilarity provided by his reactions to his failures when every scheme goes awry.
The Fox is played by Derik Lynch, and the Cat, who is given the name Kitty Poo, is portrayed by Jude Henshall, slinking around the stage in a skin tight, brightly patterned outfit to suggest the movements and sleekly shimmering coat of a cat. This conniving pair of scoundrels gives Lynch and Henshall plenty of opportunities for lively shenanigans, along with some energetic choreography. Carol Wellman Kelly is the choreographer and she has devised moves that individually suit each of the performers in the play and their characters.
The cricket is a puppet, controlled and voiced by Sam Routledge. Pinocchio throws a mallet at the cricket and kills him in an early scene in the book, so the illumination of the puppet here refers to the glowing appearance of that ghostly cricket. Routledge makes the cricket seem alive with his superb control of the puppet, and he also adds a lot of the adult level humour, as well as taking on the traditional role of Pinocchio’s conscience.
Danielle Catanzariti plays the azure haired girl, in this case a sort of love interest for Pinocchio, having originally been like a sister to him in the early part of the book then, aging unnaturally swiftly, a mother figure in the latter chapters. She appears at various times as a type of confessor for Pinocchio, forgiving him for his transgressions and giving him further chances to redeem himself. Catanzariti combines a gentleness and patience with a level of playfulness in creating her character. This combination sits every comfortably with her role.
Even the musicians, Composer/Musical Director, Jethro Woodward, Paul White and Shireen Khemlani, are dressed as the black rabbits that, in the book, arrive with a coffin for Pinocchio, only to find that he had taken his medicine and recovered. They are also augmented at times by various members of the cast.
Jonathon Oxlade’s design, based around the monolithic tree stump structure that is on a revolving stage, works in conjunction with Chris More’s video design, that is projected onto it, and by Geoff Cobham’s cleverly designed lighting that helps to establish the many locations. I won’t spoil it for you by telling you of all of the things that the tree stump turns into through their combined efforts.
This piece is not a full blown musical, but it does include a number of pop/rock songs written by Composer, Jethro Woodward. These are up-tempo and give the cast a chance to engage in some fun singing and choreography in these lighter moments, although the tunes are not particularly memorable and the songs are not intrically linked to the action.
Director Rosemary Myers keeps the pace up and ensures that there is plenty of action and excitement, although at over two hours it is still rather demanding on the attention span of small children. Nonetheless, a little editing could tighten up the script and cut the performance time down by quite a bit to make it a much snappier production, and there is already so much to like, particularly the excellent performances and impressive set/video/lighting combination. The publicity says that it is suitable for ages 8 to 108, but I would suggest that 8 is still a bit optimistic considering the length, complexity and concepts dealt with. I would have thought this is more suited to high school aged children, and a very suitable piece for classroom work after.
Don’t let that stop you from taking younger children, however, as there are plenty of things going on to keep them engaged. Just be prepared to answer a few questions later. Remember, too, that there are afternoon, as well as evening performances, giving extra access to this production.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: afternoon and evening performances to 28th July 2012
Duration: 2hr 10mins (incl 20mins intvl)
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or online here