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Review of The Adventures of Pinocchio – 3 Stars

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The Adventures of Pinocchio

The Ambassadors Theatre

Reviewed – 8th August 2017





“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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

It was an evening where I felt ten again!


Reviewed by Joanna Hinson

Photography by Roy Tan


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is at the Ambassadors Theatre until 30th August



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Review of A Super Happy Story – 4 Stars

Super Happy

A Super Happy Story

(About Feeling Super Sad)

Pleasance Courtyard – Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Reviewed – 7th August 2017





” …truly excellent.”



A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) demonstrates the importance of talking about depression through a performance which understands and expresses the extent to which theatre can convey these ever-urgent messages. But, most importantly, the show utterly believes in itself, what it has to say and exactly how it chooses to say, sing, and dance it.

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A cast of three, accompanied by live, onstage piano, engage with electric and constant energy, supporting one another as they move with precision between catchy blended harmonies with funny, touching lyrics, and simple but dynamic choreography. The show whizzes deftly through time and a multitude of settings, contained within its clever ‘chapter’ structure – and the audience is never not in the palm of the ensemble’s capable hands.

Two of the company multi-role a series of larger than life supporting characters, signified through swift prop changes. They orbit around the focus of the piece: Sally McKenzie, whose story the show tells. Following her life from aged sixteen to twenty-six, from the past to ‘right now’, Sally herself guides the audience through the onset of her depression, through the relative highs and the poignantly performed lows, addressing and displaying the intense and unpredictable difficulty of the illness. The style is at once personal, confessional and gregariously caricatured, making it the perfect blend of entertainment and intimate address.

What makes this production especially brilliant is its clever and careful message, conveyed through exceptionally advanced tonal transitions, which blur crying with laughter with more sombre tears. Lighting could have been used more imaginatively to aid this, but live and recorded music nonetheless effectively and beautifully facilitate these changes of mood.

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Though the title expresses two extremes, and the song and dance numbers are in an upbeat and jovial major key, the show does not offer neat solutions or resolutions, acknowledging that neither life not art can promise happy endings. At the end, Sally says she is ‘not bad’, and that that is good enough. This in an arresting truth; but this show, on the other hand, is neither of these things – it is truly excellent.


Reviewed by Eloïse Poulton



A Super Happy Story

(About Feeling Super Sad)

is at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe until 28th August



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