Theatre Review: Pinnochio: The Boy Within, Epstein Theatre, Liverpool

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Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Play
Genre: Children’s
Date: July 23 2018
Location: Epstein Theatre, Liverpool

(Image Source: Epstein Theatre)

Cuckootales, a local theatre production company offering young performers a first chance to play to a live audience on the stage, have brought to life this new take on the classic story of Pinnochio.

Gepetto is a lonely puppeteer who makes marionettes, having become lonely through losing his wife. To help him with this, he has a pet cricket named Stephen, and he soon builds a wooden boy named Pinnochio. The local kids are fascinated, especially when Pinnochio is enrolled into their school, but they don’t realise that Pinnochio’s nose grows when lying (which only plays a minor role in the story, surprisingly). A dispute between Pinnochio and Stephen sees the new arrival accidentally injure the creature, and a further argument with Gepetto leads Pinnochio to run off, despite this being his first day in school.

Fortunately, he meets Candlewick along the way, and the two go to school together. They build an on-off friendship, which grows enough to help Pinnochio during moments of struggle, but also inadvertently creates further problems. Along the way, they encounter unruly pupils, scary animals and also marionette performers. As the story moves along, Pinnochio returns home, but Gepetto is nowhere to be found, because he has gone to search for Pinnochio. We eventually come to a moment where all involved are at sea, and the question goes from wondering whether the boy and his inventor will reunite to pondering whether they can survive to make it home in one piece.

Of course, it is a local production, and I felt that the performers themselves demonstrated their variety of talents. Gepetto does a fine job, and Pinnochio is both believable and sympathetic. A special mention too to Candlewick, who performed very well, and it was cool to see cameo performances involving the younger children who are tasting their first experience in the world of theatre here. In addition, I should note the teacher, who was suitably OTT when speaking to the class, and also the appearances by the unusual “Dog-tectives”!

The show did have some flaws, the biggest of which concerned the scene changes. The cast worked together to move props around on wheels, but it resulted in a few moments of dead time, with no music or lighting to hide the fact that the scenery was changing, and at times some crew members were totally visible, and with no distinguishing attire relating to the show. The backdrops themselves were effective, as were the use of such props as the tree trunk that initially contains Pinnochio, but the process to achieve these various settings became a real distraction, especially earlier on during an unintentionally humorous moment where a piece of the set almost rolled off the stage.

Otherwise, I thought that the show could have benefitted from more use of humour and humorous situations; this is not a pantomime by any means, but it needed a few more funny scenes to keep the attention of the younger attendees. I was also surprised at how dark the story became towards the end, but of course the resolution that everyone was hoping for ultimately becomes a reality, allowing everybody to leave with a smile on their face.

As a local production, it worked well enough, though the scenery changes would need to be addressed for future performances. The cast were definitely the best part of the show, and overall it was a strong effort by a developing and talented crew.

Overall Rating: 7/10 – Respectable