REVIEW: Pinocchio (Greenwich Theatre)

Prior to the pandemic, Greenwich Theatre was one of our frequent haunts, being a local theatre which always offers plenty of family friendly productions. After many years of hosting touring shows, 2021 marks their inaugural in-house family rep season, with Pinocchio and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase now up and running after a Covid-enforced delay. Mummy and the munchkins headed over to Greenwich to catch Pinocchio this weekend.

While audiences may be more familiar with the 1940 Disney film, Anthony Clark’s adaptation of Pinocchio takes the story back to the original 1883 novel by Carlo Collodi, following the newly carved puppet as he struggles with taking responsibility for his actions. Striking a nice balance between dark and comedic, it’s an enjoyable family show filled with songs, puppets and an accessible message.

The fun starts before the action officially begins, with cast members playing hide and seek in the auditorium. This had all the children shrieking with laughter on Saturday as they excitedly pointed out the hiding places. But it’s more than just a ploy to get the audience engaged, with the games offering Pinocchio (at this stage nothing more than an animated log) his first taste of rule-breaking as he witnesses the children cheat.

Serin Ibrahim as cricket, Grillo, who attempts to prove Pinocchio with moral guidance.

Soon after being carved into puppet form, Pinocchio (neither a puppet nor a real boy in reality, but played brilliantly by Cassandra Hercules) gets a further taste for lies when impoverished carpenter Gepetto (Anthony Spargo) realises that he can’t bring himself to hand over the mischievous marionette to mean Mr Cherry (David Haller). Instead, Gepetto tells a tall tale about the puppet having perished in a fire, then sells his own belongings to purchase Pinocchio a satchel and sends him off to school. Confused and vulnerable, Pinocchio’s lack of strings does not stop him being manipulated by others and he keeps finds himself being led astray, first by a pair of animal rogues, Volpino the cat (Adam Karim) and Felino the fox (Reice Weathers) and later by other children. But when he finds Gepetto in mortal danger, trapped in the belly of a whale shark, Pinocchio finally proves himself to be more than just a naughty puppet.

Running at around 85 minutes (without an interval), the show definitely doesn’t drag and is actually a little rushed towards the end. It’s probably best enjoyed by those familiar with the basic storyline as it becomes a bit confusing when it comes to the children turning into donkeys and Pinocchio rescuing Gepetto from the whale shark. Pinocchio’s transformation into a real boy is also quite sudden, prompting Quaver (7) to question how it had happened.

Adam Karim as Volpino, Cassandra Hercules as Pinocchio and Reice Weathers as Fellino

But while the story may not always be easy to follow, the overall message is crystal clear. Both munchkins were able to explain it afterwards (although in Quaver’s case this was after Mummy had first explained the meaning of “moral”!) The cast are all great in their many roles (with the talented David Haller also doubling up as musical director) but Adam Karim and Reice Weathers are especially entertaining as Volpino and Felino. James Haddrell’s direction brings them right into the audience, making for an immersive experience and ensuring that everyone gets a good look at Cleo Pettitt’s spectacular costume design. We also loved the set design, with its colourful carnival lights and rollercoaster track. Coincidentally (and in keeping with our recent tendency towards recommending local places to play) there is a funfair up in Blackheath which will be closing the same day as Pinocchio. So why not make a day of it and combine the two? Or book for a Sunday and squeeze in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase too! We’ll be back for that one later in the week so look out for our review….

Pinocchio is playing at Greenwich Theatre from 13 August to 5 September 2021. We received complimentary press tickets to the 2pm performance on Saturday 21 September.

Age recommendation: 6+

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