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Watermill Theatre - Pinocchio

21st November 2013 to 5th January 2014.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News and the British Theatre Guide.

Christmas treat... with no strings attached

Watermill's Adventures of Pinocchio captivates young audience

The Adventures of Pinocchio, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until January 5

The Watermill’s magical Christmas show The Adventures of Pinocchio, based on the endearing Italian story by Carlo Collodi, is lovingly adapted by Robin Belfield and Simon Slater and is a perfect alternative to the traditional pantomime.

Excited children, parents and grandparents waited in eager anticipation for the start of this delightful show and they were not disappointed since Pinocchio is an absolutely spellbinding theatrical treat.

Karen McKeown's colourful set provides the charming background and cleverly creates the various scenes with many unexpected surprises.

The story of the mischievous puppet Pinocchio, who doesn't want to go to school or work but just wants to have fun and be an adventurer, is well-known. His problem is, no matter how hard he tries to be good, he keeps telling fibs and each time he does his nose grows bigger and bigger.

When he runs away from his father, he encounters unforeseen exploits on his quest to become a real boy and must learn to be courageous, honest and kindhearted as "good things happen to good people".

Jack Blumenau is excellent as the wayward puppet, perfectly catching the infectious mischievousness of the child.

His long-suffering carpenter father Geppetto, the splendid Tomm Coles, is distraught with worry as he searches everywhere for his lost son.

Thankfully, Pinocchio has a friendly cricket (lan Harris) who looks after him and makes sure he doesn't get into too much trouble.

Sarah Applewood is the sly fox and, together with Morgan Philpott as the cat, tries to trick Pinocchio and swindle him out of his five gold coins as he ventures to find the meadow of miracles. On his way, poor Pinocchio discovers the Blue Fairy (Gabrielle Douglas) who tries to care for him.

The six actor musicians perform with an abundance of energy and total commitment and play a variety of other parts, including some winsome rabbits.

The children in the audience were totally captivated - in fact one young child in the front row was so enthralled that he helped Pinocchio find the hidden coins, which led to some improvised audience participation - great fun from a responsive and sensitive actor.

Inventively directed by Robin Belfield, with catchy songs from Simon Slater, this is the ideal family Christmas show. One of the repeated catchphrases was "everything sounds better in Italian" - so, a thoroughly deserved Bravo bravissimo!


Review from the Daily Telegraph.

A wooden toy boy who comes to life with an in-built morality monitor that ensures every time he tells a fib his nose gets longer - what could be more magical or weirdly memorable? You can see the theatrical appeal of The Adventures of Pinocchio, even if Carlo Collodi’s wunderkind is now more associated with his sundry cinematic incarnations than the antiquated original 19th-century tale.

For a few scene-setting moments, all seems to be well with this new adaptation from director Robin Belfield and composer Simon Slater, which offers the Watermill’s familiar enchantments of a troupe of actor-musicians and a dinkily inventive stage-design.

Stranded inside the belly of a whale, the wood-carver Geppetto relives the bitterly cold winter in Italy when he fashioned a puppet he could tour to the finest theatres. We see him setting to work, twig-like arms and legs being manipulated out of a log, and then, without any great attempt to smooth the transition, his creation is substituted by a full-size lanky little fella.

And very endearing young Jack Blumenau is too, with his big glasses, tufty hair and bright, colourful clothing - but it’s hard to believe his character isn’t flesh and blood. Perhaps that’s one reason why Belfield and Slater keep the obvious emotional theme of Pinocchio’s yearning to be like other children to a bare minimum, instead emphasising his determination to dodge boring school-work.

We’re on his side, obviously, but the show as a whole, charming and jaunty as it is, feels too pedagogical. Our hero learns you shouldn’t trust strangers (Morgan Philpott and Sarah Applewood’s blatantly predatory Fox and Cat), that money doesn’t grow in fields and that lazy-bones can become, literally, dumb asses.

The cast admirably contend with some rough-hewn characterisation: Ian Harris plays a prim and proper cricket who sounds a repeated note of disapproval while Gabrielle Douglas pops up, with little rhyme or reason, as a barely sketched Blue Fairy.

Songs are in over-plentiful supply, coups de theatre are lacking. As for Pinocchio’s nose, the long and the short of it is that darting on and off stage to whip on a series of cheap-looking proboscises doesn’t really cut it.

Am I being too harsh? My nine-year-old companions were underwhelmed but politely grateful. It got them out of the house - which I suppose for most will be reason enough to attend but the show as a whole desperately needs a more chop-chop approach.


There are reviews from The Stage ("a delightful choice... light-hearted and creative production") and WhatsOnStage ("sparky, inventive and intelligent... recommended for all ages – as a family show should be" - 4 stars).