Pinocchio: Adventures in the Metropolis

Mon 13th – Sat 18th August 2012


Lucinda Higgie

at 09:40 on 15th Aug 2012



As the audience walks into the dimly lit theatre, they find the cast of 'Pinnocchio: Adventures in the Metropolis' forming a menacing tableau. The wooden puppet stands at the front, the three actors who operate it standing directly behind, and there are tall, prison-like bamboo structures further back. Repetitive, industrial noises are being blasted out of the loudspeakers. I was excited about the production at this point. It looked as if it would fulfill its promise to update and darken the Pinnocchio tale, to relocate 'the seemingly innocent story, out of the peaceful Tuscan hills, to a new, urban and twisted setting'. Unfortunately, as the play continued, it became apparent that it wouldn't deliver on this claim. Moreover, despite a few admirable performances (I particularly enjoyed Kay Singh's performance as a kindly hairdresser), much of the interaction in the play was flatly delivered.

It just isn't clear what the company want this play to be. The naïve didactic-ism at the centre of the story, which stresses the importance of being a good, obedient boy, is left unquestioned, and this makes it seem as if it is intended for children. But the modern elements that are added to the tale – they include juvenile delinquency and 'the land of getting absolutely hammered' - are inappropriate for children. This leaves it with a tone akin to a badly researched government warning against stranger danger and underage drinking. It doesn't help that the modernisations are so clumsily done. When Pinnocchio meets Fox and Cat, updated as knife-wielding vandals, they wield spray-cans awkwardly and look like they don't really know what to do with themselves. Even as they don masks and produce knives, they never become nearly as intimidating as they need to be. Equally, the scene in which Pinnocchio visits a club resembles a drama exercise that has been hastily put together by year nines. Many of the other actors look genuinely embarrassed as they dance with one another and cheered the arrival of sambuca shots from the bar. Scenes like these need to be meticulously blocked and choreographed if they are to be even vaguely convincing.

Blocking also proved a problem when, despite the fact the theatre is in the round, most of the audience congregated on just one side of the theatre, with only one or two audience members on the remaining sides. Despite this, the performers had their backs to the majority of the audience for a considerable part of the first few scenes. In future, it might be helpful if the ushers encourage the audience to spread out. Another logistical problem was with the puppet itself. It didn't blow me away, although the three puppeteers do a good job of animating him: perhaps I have been spoiled by the stunning puppetry to be seen in The Lion King and War Horse, but soon I was barely looking at the puppet at all in favour of the puppeteer who voiced him. The person operating the feet didn't seem to have a very fun time of it: despite the skateboard strapped to her knee, the poor girl never seemed to be able to keep up with the other two puppeteers as they dashed about. As for the other two, I admired Alex Gray's performance as Pinnocchio, but found it distracting that the second puppeteer's sole role seemed to be operating Pinnocchio's left hand. A more equal division of the performance of Pinnocchio, or even a simultaneous one, could have been very interesting to witness.

This show could be more successful if it commits more clearly to a particular tone and genre. As it stands, it is a contradictory and frustrating show.


Helena Blackstone

at 10:05 on 15th Aug 2012



From an updated version of Pinocchio set in a metropolis I was expecting a faster pace and perhaps the sense of a large world in which Pinocchio the fragile puppet could become lost in - spacially, morally, or something. There are artistic decisions that have been made to adapt this story for the stage and the 13:45 time slot which result in losing many parts of the story. However, in my opinion, they are the wrong parts. We skip over the very beginning of Pinocchio’s childhood and so do not see his first evening alive. This would have been good to give him realistic time for character development (when does he learn of his preference for toast with no crusts, having only been alive for one evening?) However, they decided to keep the small village feel, in which everybody in the city knows who Pinocchio is and his vulnerabilities thus losing the sense of a metropolis. The utilitarian bamboo edifices are cleverly used to create various urban spaces onstage.

The puppet is quite impressive, with its soulful face, and puppeteer Alex Gray is particularly good as the voice of Pinocchio. His is the best performance in the production; through only voice and subtle gestures of the puppet’s head and hands, which twitch with every expression and reaction, he conveys a naive young boy, sweet and measured in his mannerisms, which effectively shows him as set apart from the other characters by his different upbringing (and being made out of wood). Unfortunately he is let down by the feet whose animator was required to move while kneeling on a skateboard. This ruins scene exits as she could not keep up with the standing puppeteers who were working the upper body.

The cast is generally shaky and I felt at times that they are shown up by the better physical acting of the puppet. Jaroslav Fowkes lets the first scene down as his physical awkwardness only highlights the awkward creaking of the puppet before the soundscape starts. He also needs to work on his accents - dropping consonants is not the same thing as an accent. Unfortunately, Daniel Orejon was miscast as Cat; his Spanish accent was far too strong for me to understand, or perhaps he was gabbling his lines, I couldn’t tell. With a little confidence I’m sure he could speak more clearly and even lose some physical nervousness - after all he is meant to be a thug. Kay Singh is however a good fit for her part, which has been interpreted well into a modern day Blue Fairy (a hairdresser). She is suitably motherly, comforting and a confident actor. I was disappointed, however, by the final scene in which Pinocchio becomes a real boy and Alex Gray, best actor in show, is finally freed of his puppet and given opportunity to act himself. For both him and for this climactic moment I wanted some more lines. As it was, he was not given enough to say.

Most of this production could be easily perked up by some added confidence from the team. The puppet and puppetry is good, the script is fine, but the actors must commit to their parts with more gusto to ensure a successful production in the future.


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