REVIEW: PINOCCHIO (Kings Head Theatre) ★★★★


Charles Court Opera, known for their innovative Gilbert & Sullivan productions, along with their more recent works The Magic Flute and The Barber of Seville, returns to the King’s Head Theatre with their 10th Boutique pantomime. Based on Collodi’s story of Pinocchio, with elements of Jack and the Beanstalk, this peppery panto, written and directed by John Savournin, provides lots of laughs and a rather unusual romantic love story.

Jiminy Cricket’s Fantastic Circus – “the greatest show since Hamilton” – is in trouble. Nobody is interested in watching a couple of fleas perform tricks and Jiminy (Matthew R J Ward) is extremely short of funds. His luck worsens when the formidable El Tabasco del Cicada (John Savournin) appears to collect his debt. El Tabasco is in search of a golden egg that was stolen from him and quickly convinces Jiminy of the need to assist him in this endeavour. Meanwhile Pinocchio’s mother, forbids him to ride his bicycle near the pond. Pinocchio (Joshua da Costa) rides his bicycle near the pond and falls in. Thankfully, a Russian dogfish is at hand to pull the boy over to the other side, which is the seedier part of town. Here Pinocchio meets Mr Fox (Robin Bailey), who has stolen the golden egg. As they are having a chat at the Snail and Cabbage, the melancholy snail Shelley (Francesca Fenech) serenades the patrons with Judy Garland tunes. Pinocchio is enchanted by Shelley but El Tabasco and Jiminy Cricket are hot on “Foxy’s” trail.

Joshua da Costa is a splendid addition to the Charles Court Opera cast, portraying Pinocchio as an endearing boy with a knack for tap dancing and hungering for adventure. Although John Savournin does not play the Dame in this production, his performance as the villainous cricket El Tabasco is equally hilarious as he squeezes his peppers as fast as other gunslingers draw their six-shooters. (Matthew Kellett shares the villain role with John Savournin who has conflicting opera commitments.) Robin Bailey plays the Fox as a lovable rogue who is dreaming of a better life. Francesca Fenech is lovely and touching as Shelley, rushing to her friend’s aid as slowly as she can, and Nichola Jolley provides a very unusual and energetic fairy, dressed in white and gold. Matthew R J Ward’s Jiminy Cricket is jumpy and nervous, as he reluctantly aids the arch villain El Tabasco.

William Fricker’s design makes the most of the limited space in the King’s Head, even creating an illuminated underwater world with a 9-foot dogfish moving through the auditorium. Mia Walldén’s beautifully creative costumes add to the fairy tale character of the story. David Eaton (keyboard) and Dave Jennings (percussion) accompany the cast as they sing a variety of popular songs by the Beatles and ABBA as well as other favourites – with completely new lyrics by David Eaton. As the company is called Charles Court Opera, the quality of their voices is remarkable.

A delightful show that provides the perfect holiday feeling.

Reviewed by Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Bill Knight

PINOCCHIO plays the King’s Head Theatre until 7 January 2017