Pinocchio: No Strings Attached!
Above The Stag
Reviewed – 22nd November 2019
“arguably the least subtle show to ever grace the stage, yet it is so fantastically brazen about it that you can’t help but be charmed by it”
Right, I’ll just come straight out and say it. This show has ruined Pinocchio for me. There. Happy, guys? My childhood has been well and truly shattered.
Why? Because Jon Bradfield & Martin Hooper’s Pinocchio: No Strings Attached! is not a screen-to-stage magical Disney story for the family. Instead it is a filthy, raunchy, hilarious and shockingly rambunctious romp which takes the phrase ‘adult pantomime’ to dizzying new heights. How? Well, let me just say that when Pinocchio lies in this show, it isn’t his nose that grows bigger… suffice to say I’ve never wished someone to be truthful more.
Just about every sex joke ever conceived (no pun intended) is crammed into this panto, which may as well have been called ‘Carry on Puppeteering’ as far as innuendo is concerned. It is arguably the least subtle show to ever grace the stage, yet it is so fantastically brazen about it that you can’t help but be charmed by it. Make no mistake, this is not a play for prudes – the humour is so blue it’s setting up fake fact-checking websites as we speak.
The basic story is more or less intact, but switched up for a more modern retelling aimed at the LGBTQ+ community and heavily Frankensteined to make it infinitely ruder and incredibly camp. It’s certainly great fun, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that Pinocchio: No Strings Attached is a play without heart – love and acceptance are very much the order of the day. Alongside Pinocchio (Jared Thompson) embarking on a journey to become a real boy, his main struggle here is coming out and accepting his own sexuality as he falls for Joe (Oli Dickson). However, the story is not strictly his and each character has their own love battle, bar the villainous Figaro (Christopher Lane), who as the town’s corrupt, bigoted mayor seeks to ruin things for everyone.
Despite all the low-brow ‘take me through the back passage’ jokes, the play is quite often refreshingly progressive in opening conversations about xenophobia, homophobia and people of colour struggling to find their identity in the LGBTQ+ world. There are also plenty of clever topical references thrown in at the delight of the audience, some of which are so current I can only assume they are written in the moment they appear in the news.
It is always important for a panto to be visually stimulating, and David Shields’ set design does not disappoint – it’s colourful and exciting without cluttering the stage; Jackie Orton’s costumes are similarly pleasing to the eye. The score (Jon Bradfield), whilst not the most innovative musically, does a great job of furthering the characters’ love stories in a succinct and enjoyable way, and the lyrics are an absolute riot.
The stand out performance is without a doubt Matthew Baldwin, in drag as Geppetta. He commands the stage with utter confidence and has the whole audience in his palm for the play’s entirety. His performance is relaxed, almost lackadaisical yet playful, and the timing of his rapier-sharp wit is the mark of a true virtuoso. It isn’t just Baldwin though, the whole cast are to be praised for the show’s slickness. The characters are memorable for the most part, the energy is never at risk of dropping and Andrew Beckett’s attentive direction has created a show that feels completely precise and polished.
If this year you fancy a deliciously crude panto that sticks to the winning formula and doesn’t pretend to be anything different, then Pinocchio: No Strings Attached is the one to see. Just don’t bring your kids.
Reviewed by Sebastian Porter
Photography by PGB Studios
Pinocchio: No Strings Attached!
Above The Stag until 11th January
Previously reviewed at this venue: