For this year’s adult pantomime at Above the Stag, authors Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper turn to the story of Pinocchio for inspiration. Popularised by the 1940 Disney animation, Pinocchio: No Strings Attached! may not be family friendly but it’s packed with knowing references, bawdy humour and robust songs with a distinct Italian flavour.
Bradfield and Hooper’s script is utterly ruthless, satirising popular culture with acerbic one-liners while warmly embracing the absurdity of the pantomime construct.
Carlo Collodi’s much-loved characters are all present, although Jiminy Cricket, representing Pinocchio’s moral centre, is thoughtfully stamped out early on. Instead there’s some plain-speaking from Dami Olukoya as the lesbian Fairy Fatima, while Briony Rawle gratuitously steals several scenes as the self-absorbed cat Chianti. Despite the innuendo, Jared Thompson remains a reassuringly innocent Pinocchio and Oli Dickson is hilarious as his closeted, celebrity footballer love-interest Joe.
The icing on the cake, however, is Matthew Baldwin’s deliciously urbane Geppetta, a Roman socialite laying low in the harbour village of Placenta. Baldwin’s astringent delivery and lethal put-downs have been honed after several years on the Above the Stag stage and, like Andrew Beckett’s confident direction and David Shields’ colourful set design, contribute to the enduring success of this seasonal production.