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Pinocchio, Nuffield Theatre, Lancaster University - Review

Ryan Hartson as Pinocchio.

Ryan Hartson as Pinocchio.

There’s so much invention in this intricate telling of the Carlo Collodi fairytale, and a central performance of the title role that stands out as prominently as his nose!

It’s part of a collaboration between Manchester’s Z-Arts and Lancaster’s Live at LICA organisations and suggests their joint aim of enlivening children’s theatre has much potential.

In this production alone there’s mime, dance, smoke, shadow screens, projections and puppetry - before you stop ticking them off - and put together in the style of mainland European theatre traditions. Just occasionally however it overplays its own handicrafts and breaks the magic spell of its story-telling.

Everything could improve by the time it plays to the Manchester and Burnley audiences on its seasonal tour, but a more than passing acquaintance with the original story will nevertheless probably help younger audiences.

Though quite why Pinocchio’s guiding light, the talking cricket, appears to become a grumpy old man will probably always remain a mystery. As a puppet character however he does make his grouchy presence felt.

And director Benji Reid would be best advised to drop the Moss Side setting, even if it will play better to big city theatregoers. Remember who the target audience is, and that even their parents might struggle to assimilate the theme given in the programme notes.

There’s a much lighter touch about the writing of Mary Cooper’s adaptation and an outstanding central performance from Ryan Hartson, as the ‘wood boy gone bad’.

He’s a body-popping, break-dancing, hip-hop star in his own right, also known as Logistic, but brings his character to life with a unique animation coupled with a child-like voice and wide-eyed innocence.

Chris Jack, Lane Paul Stewart, Denise Kennedy and Rayyah McCaul complete a highly-accomplished cast and Sumit Sarkar’s video animations underline that feeling that here is a company – Big Imaginations – with much, much more to offer.

David Upton

 

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