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Frippery, Frolics and Fantasy: Pinocchio, the Pantomime

24 January 2017

Pinocchio, the Pantomime

by Doreen Moger

Edmundian Players at Cheray Hall, Whitton until 28th January

Review by Quentin Weiver

Run away to the circus. This stereotypical act of rebellion is what Pinocchio story is all about.   Or is it?  In the Italian original it is also a story of redemption told, as in the prodigal son parable, through the love of parent and child.  Since that original, we have had many manifestations of Pinocchio’s adventures told as a children’s fairy story, in several films, and many stage productions.  Edmundians’ winter show, however, took it a step further: as a pantomime! Oh yes, they did!  Although the script did have some difficulty in shoehorning on the glass slipper of the panto genre, our Cinderella was found (cue Wrong Panto!), and the party begun.  In their wonted way, Edmundians piled frippery, frolics and fantasy into nearly three hours worth of frenetic family fun.

Here is the value of teamwork: with a production crew of 22 and a cast of 28, the amount of man-, woman- and child-hours put into this production is slide-rule blowing.  Nevertheless, Edmundians team off stage and ensemble on stage always makes big shows look seamless.

And talking of seams: multiple costumes for the cast of 28 soon add up to a lot of costumes.  Jackie Howting and Marlene Bedell led the seamstresses who created these in their dozens.  Imaginative and dazzling in their colour, they were set off by the vivid naïf-style sets, by Jessica Young and her team of artists, that framed the 14 scenes.  Costume and scenic painting were cleverly coordinated into a harmonious colour scheme.  The epitome of colour was the clown’s costumes, vibrant silky stripes, which complemented the backdrops.  Make-up too was striking and the clown’s faces would have had even a mild coulrophobic screaming up the walls.

With his usual geniality and ebullience, Dave Young made a very sympathetic Geppetto, the toymaker, whom he played with touching pathos in his longing for a child, even one carved in wood. However, Geppetto’s wife Risotto, does not fully share this longing, being more pragmatic.  Risotto was the dame role and Terry Bedell savoured the role, giving great energy to the part and playing the audience well as “she” flirted and fussed in frocks that became increasingly outrageous.

Their surrogate child, lovingly created by Geppetto, a puppet carved from wood and soon to be incarnated as the naughty boy, was played without a merest splinter of wooden acting by Hannah Nicolas, enjoying the contrariness, and clearly differentiating the flesh and blood Pinocchio and the bark and sap Pinocchio. Remarkably though, this role was undertaken cold for the opening performances by 13 year-old Mary McGrath, who stepped up from the chorus and rose remarkably to the part.  This was a feat that would have had the most seasoned professional quaking at the thought.

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This was very much a production in which ensembles of children and individual youngsters shone. The representative squires of good and evil, Kathryn Bedell as Fairy Light and Maddy Corke as Gremmy were prime examples. (Incidentally it is good to still see the panto convention of Good from stage right and Bad from stage left, which originated from the heaven and hell of the mediaeval mystery plays.).  The child actors were under the wing of Jimminy Cricket, the comic lead played by Becky Halden with gleeful energy.  Unfortunately she was let down by the script, which had her returning with the phrase “Can you hear me” ad nauseam, without any obvious function or meaning.  Perhaps the writer meant it to be a “don’t touch the box” routine, except there was no box.

Slightly older were the principal boy and girl. Amelia Kirk had the breeches part of Tony, the hero, while Rachael Nicholas played, with a charming coyness, “his” love interest Marietta, the pretty ingénue.  Rachel is a young actress to watch out for.

The glitz level was heightened by ballet mistress, Laura Deane and her three graceful and skilled ballerinas in a dance episode to accompany the beautifully sung When You Wish upon a Star.

Crossing the spectrum, the Technicolor episodes came on with the clowns, the multi-talented Jessica Young as Macaroni and her stooge, Spaghetti, played by Ellen Walker. Some nice moments of pathos contrasted with the full-on slapstick.  The pair were whipped-in by  Lara Parker’s authoritarian ringmaster, Stromboli.

Pantos usually have their special effects moments and Edmundians are FX specialists. This panto had a clever black-light sequence with invisible dancers manipulating fluorescent fishes that are gobbled up by a huge whale.  The scene then transformed into the inside of the beast complete with Gepetto, Pinocchio and family incarcerated in the gastric grotto of the whale’s stomach, together with some pre-digested (but still quite lively) skeletons.  Wow!

Seasoned panto director Jackie Howting gave us a cornucopia of colourful offerings with all one might expect from a panto, plus a bit more, so that its almost Wagnerian duration just whistled by, with my very young companion on the edge of her seat the whole time. With musical direction by the indomitable Roger Swift, it was a great ensemble piece epitomised by the grand finale, “Life’s a Happy Song”.  Now here’s a circus to run away to!

Quentin Weiver

January 2017

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From → Pantomime, Reviews

2 Comments
  1. celiabard permalink

    This was a most comprehensive review about a story that didn’t quite fit into a pantomime – and there were lots of lovely things about this production.

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  1. They’re Behind You! Pantomime Season, 2016-17 | Mark Aspen

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