“Mehmet Ergen directs the show with a freshness and inventiveness that allows the versatile and talented cast to sparkle”
What a treat this is. Turning a successful film into a stage musical isn’t an easy task, but this production by Selladoor manages it wonderfully. The story is true to the original and if you are wondering how the small Arcola stage can accommodate a VW van, a motel, a hospital and a Beauty Pageant, go and see it purely for the ingenuity of David Woodhead’s design.
This is one of those evenings at the theatre that has the audience buzzing and leaving the theatre with huge smiles. Some will also have a tune in their head, as there are some truly memorable songs (William Finn) in the show. The cast are excellent; this is a real ensemble piece where everyone gets a chance to shine, even those with smaller roles, such as Imelda Warren-Green who personified the old adage that there is no such thing as a small part with hilarious performances as Linda and Miss California.
For those not familiar with the film (written by Michael Arndt), the story is about the Hoover family; a rather dysfunctional tribe, who drive from New Mexico to California so that their daughter Olive can enter a children’s beauty pageant. Olive, played this evening by Sophie Hartley Booth was the heart and soul of the show. She was hilarious, sweet and utterly captivating. Her performance in the talent competition brought the house down. Three other children, Ellicia Simondwood, Yvie Bent and Elodie Salmon played the Mean Girls, both the voices in Olive’s head that tell her she isn’t good enough and the other competitors in the beauty pageant. And delightfully mean they were.
The rest of the family each have their problems. Paul Keating played Frank, the gay uncle who has unsuccessfully tried to kill himself, with a gentle sureness of hand. Gary Wilmot’s scandalous grandpa is living on the sofa. He loves to shock, yet has real warmth and Wilmot brought a gorgeous tongue in cheek style to the role. Sev Keoshgerian managed to be very funny, characterful and convincing as Dwayne, Olive’s brother, even during the majority of the show when he doesn’t say a word. The parents, Richard and Sheryl, played by Gabriel Vick and Laura Pitt-Pulford are broke and struggling. Gabriel is optimistic about his ‘ten point plan for success,’ and expecting a book deal that never comes, but despite all the setbacks and obstacles, the family are determined to get Olive to the pageant. Pitt-Pulford sang ‘Something Better Better Happen’ with such genuine emotion that it brought a tear to the eye, and Vick’s ‘What You Left Behind’ was powerful and touching. They felt like a real family, each individually falling apart but coming together in the face of their difficulties; pushing the van to get it started, determined to finish the journey.
The two other cast members are Ian Carlyle and Matthew McDonald, who both take on a couple of contrasting roles. Carlyle is outrageously loud as the wonderfully dreadful pageant host, and equally good as the man who stole Frank’s lover. McDonald also convinces, both as the ex-lover and as the long suffering technical guy at the pageant.
Mehmet Ergen directs the show with a freshness and inventiveness that allows the versatile and talented cast to sparkle. There is a stunning live band above the stage (Musical Director Arlene McNaught) that perform their hearts out for every number. The perfect package is completed with great sound (Olly Steel) and lighting (Richard Williamson) throughout and some excellent choreography (Anthony Whiteman).
If Little Miss Sunshine gets a West End transfer, and it deserves to get one, I will be happy to say that I saw it in this smaller, more intimate space. Do go, if you can. The whole thing is a joy.
“The cast of young performers are amazing, holding the stage and the attention of the children and adults in the audience alike.”
Once upon a time, a long, long, long time ago, while I was growing up I spent a lot of holidays in Italy. I’d seen the animated film but it wasn’t until I visited Pinocchio’s House in a small theme park in Rimini that I realised how well loved this traditional Italian story was. In Carlo Collodi’s classic tale I encountered a slightly more fable-esque version of the story, where misbehaving children feel real fear and encounter many dangers. I hope I’m not spoiling anyone’s fun when I say that the tale of Pinocchio starts out both wistful and sad, rampages through hope, fear and peril, but ends happily ever after!
Since those heady, hot summers the theme park has grown and expanded, and so have I. I’ve seen a few different versions of the folk tale over the years but hadn’t thought much about it recently until the opportunity to see the ‘all singing/all dancing’ production showcasing up-and-coming talent from The British Theatre Academy arose… so I jumped at the chance!
Condensed by Brian Hill, the play manages to keep the action moving without feeling hurried but doesn’t delve deep into the rollercoaster of emotion the story holds, however I will put that down to the 75 minute running time and the child friendly nature of the production.
Starting with shadow puppetry the story of toymaker Geppetto and the loss of his wife become almost a prologue, before the storytelling swiftly moves to real Geppetto (played by Martin Neely) on stage, lonely and wishing for a child of his own, he carves a puppet boy from wood. A puppet who can speak and move and hopefully become his family.
Wanting desperately to be human the boy, Pinocchio, reels from one bad decision to another, choosing adventure over his father’s wishes. He finds himself drawn to the livelier children of the town, then into a circus, before he is defrauded of all the money he has, sees his friends become donkeys and even ends up swallowed by a whale.
The Narrator of the prologue becomes the ‘Blue Fairy’ whose frequent encounters with Pinocchio ensure the story skips along fluidly, noting his tendency to lie and choose ‘fun’ over tasks, and she guides him to a moral conclusion: an unselfish act for the love of his father that will make him real.
The principal characters are very good; the slightly manic sideshow puppeteer manages quite a sophisticated performance, as do the sly Fox and the sneaky Cat con artists (the latter steals the show). Lizzie Rees plays the Blue Fairy/Storyteller and her very powerful vocals are wonderful but do at times dominate the rest of the voices in tone and talent, and therefore occasionally seem out of place.
The music by Neil Bartram is good and during the show’s ‘big number’, in which the whole cast fills the stage, the young ensemble dance in formation with gusto and obvious enjoyment (choreographed by Anthony Whiteman).
The cast of young performers (from the British Theatre Academy) are amazing, holding the stage and the attention of the children and adults in the audience alike. Their enthusiasm and confidence is infectious. The director does an amazing job organising a cast of approximately 200 that alters on rotation for each performance (there are 17 teams). Pinocchio himself is played by two actors as he is rarely off stage, leaving only Geppetto and the Blue Fairy as permanent, non-changing cast. I have worked in classrooms for many years and sat through many school productions – this is no mean feat from Bronagh Lagan!
The musical is fun and full of energy and a great way to spend a morning or afternoon over the school summer holidays. It’s short enough to not require an interval yet long enough to make the venture into Covent Garden worth the effort. The children in the audience certainly seemed transfixed, there was minimal fuss and talking in the stalls yet half of those watching were under ten years old.
An eight year old near me asked hushed questions about what would happen next as he wriggled with anticipation in his seat. Three children behind me sat in absolute silence taking it all in. Even a toddler sat through the entire show without anyone noticing.
Everyone applauded with appreciation at the end. A family group squeezed out of the row in front of me, Granny wiping teary eyes from the school play/children’s choir effect. A couple of 4-year olds in the front row left wide eyed and smiling.
“But is he really real now?” a chatty 7-year old asked everyone on the stairs on the way out. I widened my eyes and nodded slowly when he looked at me and he grinned.