Will Tuckett scored a Christmas hit in 2002 with his children’s ballet The Wind in the Willows. Pinocchio, his more ambitious follow-up, reunites many of the same creative team and uses a similar mix of song, dance and speech. The result, though less consistent, is darker and deeper.
Pinocchio (Christopher Akrill) is a string-haired puppet with a nose that really grows. His wood-grain bodysuit gives his limbs the look of jointed rods, though his dance style can be as boneless as a rag doll’s. Geppetto (warmly portrayed by Andrew Corbett) is a bumbling, kind-hearted woodcutter who takes Pinocchio for his son, while Stromboli (Ewan Wardrop) is a fairground baddie, complete with twirly moustache. The pretty and petite Blue Fairy (Elisabetta d’Aloia), who whooshes about on a sparkly child’s scooter, shows a lot more pluck and personality than your usual ballet fairy. Special mention goes to Charlotte Broom as Fox: a natural character dancer who clearly relishes her role.
Their adventures are told as much through music and design as action and narration. Martin Ward’s score is an apt blend of different styles: yearning, klezmer-style rhapsodies, off-kilter folk tunes, cheery organ-grinder harmonies, portentously jangling strings. The Quay brothers’ brilliant designs magically transform the stage: a billowing cloth becomes an expanse of ocean; a tube of translucent material becomes a deep-sea shark with red-hot eyes; the arms of a sinister painted clown come to life, reaching ominously across the stage.
Some of the numbers are a little long. Phil Porter’s text, spiced with dashes of pseudo-Italian or Hungarian – “I will explicissimo”, “fantasmikash!” – is captivating to read in the programme notes but can be hard to follow when spoken on stage. The stage wizardry will stay in your memory, though, while the understated scenes of loss, remorse and redemption will quite simply squeeze your heart.