Review: The Adventures of Pinocchio
Image: The British Theatre Academy
Cast on press night:
Pinocchio - Nathaniel Purnell
Geppetto - Martin Neely
Storyteller/ Fairy - Lizzie Rees
Puppet master - Tabitha Knowles
Fox - Zane Heath
Cat - Matilda Hopkins
Lampwick - James Sampson
Driver - Katie Foster
Mary - Alice Bonney
Annette - Jessica Brown
Cast varies by day of performance.
The story of a wooden puppet yearning to be a real boy springs to life in this enchanting new musical.
Written by the Broadway and Disney writing duo Neil Bartram and Brian Hill (The Story of My Life, Bedknobs and Broomsticks), this family musical is based on Carlo Collodi's classic tale.
Carved out of wood by the lonely toymaker Geppetto, Pinocchio tumbles from one disastrous situation to another in search of adventure - only to discover that, in the end, all he really needs is an unselfish heart and the love of his father.
We're all pretty used to seeing young people acting on stage in the West End these days.
Often, some of them have barely reached their teenage years, as is the case here.
That doesn't mean, though, that their acting, singing and dancing are any less impressive, or less well-honed than their adult counterparts.
Here, a cast drawn from an enormous company of The British Theatre Academy get to show off their talents in a musical retelling of the well-known story of a puppet boy whose nose gets longer when he lies.
The story actually starts with a fairly sad event, the death of woodcarver Geppetto's dearly-loved wife, which you might think would throw something of a shadowy gloom over proceedings.
James Sampson (Lampwick), Nathaniel Purnell (Pinocchio) & cast - Photo by Roy Tan
It doesn't because the story moves quickly on to explore other hopeful avenues, but it also encompasses other issues as the newly-carved Pinocchio starts to explore his world and comes up against an unscrupulous puppet master, an entrepreneurial fox-cat duo who want to line their own pockets with as much cash as possible, and a huge fish among other things!
Sad though the start may be, the tale of course (and I doubt I'm giving anything away here) has a happy ending and plenty of lessons for the smaller members of the audience, and maybe some of the adult ones too.
Running at around one hour and 15 minutes, the show feels just about the perfect length for families.
And the smaller members of the family sitting near me seemed completely transfixed for the duration.
That's down to a number of things.
First, Carlo Collodi's original story is obviously compelling, and it's retold here totally effectively at a brisk but unhurried pace, thanks to a clear, comprehensible and economical book by Brian Hill.
Neil Bartram's endearing music has an underlying magical quality that pervades the entire enterprise, with sensitive melodies woven into the ballads, and numbers that allow the large cast to shine - and they do.
There's one big, rousing number - Terra Di Ragazzi - where the cast sing together with considerable and enormously impressive gusto.
Pretty-well a show-stopper, that song drew much appreciative applause and well-deserved cheering from the audience - it's a terrific number, worthy of any West End show and one this cast commendably exploits to the full.
Director Bronagh Lagan has the unenviable task of not only managing an enormous company, but also orchestrating her show around the set for the ongoing production at this address.
Undaunted, she sensibly opts for simplicity with sheets largely doing most of the design work, and leaving our imaginations to fill in the gaps.
The principal characters rotate depending on the day of the show, with only Martin Neely as Geppetto and Lizzie Rees as the Storyteller/ Fairy being permanent members of the cast.
In the lead on this occasion as Pinocchio, Nathaniel Purnell ably convinces with both his acting and singing; Lizzie Rees has a motherly charm as the Storyteller/ Fairy and there's solid support from Martin Neely as the down-to-earth Geppetto.
Tabitha Knowles' insidiously exploitative Puppet Master - who wants nothing less than to be "the greatest puppeteer the world has ever known" - may be diminutive in stature, but packs a formidable punch in the acting department.
As does Matilda Hopkins as the money-grabbing Cat who, more or less, manages to steal the show.
Apart from the principals, the strength of a company really lies in its supporting ensemble and here they don't disappoint for a moment.
This well-schooled ensemble is a powerfully focused team who can act satisfyingly as individuals, deal effortlessly with fast-moving and complex action, and also sing impressively to boot.
With a great show-stopping number and some hummable melodies along the way, this is an entertaining, enchanting and polished production which the audience loved - and I did too!
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ActDrop listing for Ambassadors Theatre
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