Relocated to the warehouse-like Tramway while its home continues to be redeveloped, the company of the Citizens Theatre has taken full advantage of the spacious stage area to create a gorgeous and fantastical reworking of Pinocchio.
Robert Alan Evans (with assistance from Lu Kemp) has fused Carlo Collodi’s 1883 original, The Adventures of Pinocchio, with the plot of the 1940 Disney film.
Gary Lilburn is a hopeful but flawed Geppetto, while Liam King and actor/associate puppet director Elisa De Grey, operate designer Rachael Canning’s perfectly lifelike little Pinocchio puppet, with King giving him an impish voice.
Helen Katamba lends a sense of wonder as the narrating – and remarkably resistant to harm – Cricket, while Stephanie Payne and the ever-compelling Andy Clark form a great double act as scheming hench-creatures, Cat and Fox.
Canning’s set, murkily lit by Lizzie Powell, has a feel of grimy, careworn Victoriana.
Nikola Kodjabashia’s live score, played by the cast with onstage organs and percussion instruments, adds to an atmosphere that is not always cosy – the end meted out to Irene Allan’s wealth-obsessed puppet show owner and gold miner Florenzina, surrounded by the fires stoked by her donkey-headed slave-children, is positively sinister.
While director Dominic Hill is clearly not out to sugarcoat this fairytale, moments of great humour and beauty also abound, like the stunning whale puppet that swallows Geppetto and Pinocchio, and the tear-inducing moment when the pair face mortality and are reunited in love.
What the piece deftly captures is that essential sense of wonder and wariness that comes from being a child, and the sense of comfort that results from having the love and guidance of a caring adult.