Jasmine Vardimon’s enchanting theatrical production of Pinocchio delights children and adults alike. On Pinocchio’s journey from lifeless marionette to donkey and eventually a human boy, he explores the world, encounters all sorts of characters and experiences new emotions at every juncture.
Nearly each chapter within Vardimon’s “Pinocchio” incorporates a unique production element, which informs the choreography without becoming gimmicky. Geppetto’s silhouette is projected on a multi-panelled tent as he feverishly whittles away at his marionette. The Blue Fairy entrancingly waves her arms, displaying red lights in her palms. The Marionette theatre puppet masters showcase extraordinary aerial work in comically slow motion fight scenes, and Pinocchio’s nose cleverly grows with the aid of cast members’ thumbs.
In addition to the familiar storyline, the deliberate, detailed choreography and marked characterisations of each performer make Pinocchio easy to follow along. Throughout, Jiminy’s character clarifies the story during short narrations. Although the theme, as explained by both Jiminy and the programme, is the triumph of choosing one’s own future, the theme of ‘belonging’ appeared much more than social mobility to me.
Geppetto’s love for Pinocchio is palpable as he gleefully teaches Pinocchio how to move his newly mobile body. The heart-warming scene is reminiscent of parents witnessing their toddlers’ first steps, and Pinocchio earnestly seeks to please his surrogate father. Pinocchio shuffles along the floor, kicks his legs and jumps while enthusiastically clapping his hands. The physical humour only slightly masks the phenomenal athleticism and coordination.
But when Pinocchio strays away from school, he meets malicious characters – ranging from the deliciously jaunty fox and cat to the mystical mob of black wraithlike assassins. On his journey, Pinocchio faces trickery, mocking and flat-out rejection, emphasized by his desperate want to fit in as a “real” boy. Pinocchio’s continual shunning and rejection makes his tender reunion with Geppetto that much sweeter.
Vardimon’s superbly magical “Pinocchio” is an all-around impressive production. Powerhouse dancers deliver a compelling performance of creative choreography with physical finesse and persuasive acting, while the whimsical music score and dramatic lighting create a dreamlike atmosphere. The props and staging are brilliant, too – from Pinocchio’s growing nose to Geppetto’s boat ride and Pinocchio becoming engulfed by a giant whale.
Although the 90-minute show sans intermission may be challenging for the kiddies, Vardimon completes each concept instead of rushing through scenes. However, the inn’s beer brawl scene at the inn begins to drag, as does his interaction with his playmates. Even the pieces at the Marionette Theatre could be shortened, though the short Beyonce tribute absolutely tickled the crowd.
On the show’s opening night, the Sadler’s Wells crowd gave the Jasmine Vardimon Company a well-deserved standing ovation for their outstanding physical capabilities and expressive performance. The immaculate production resonated with the viewers, leaving audience-goers buzzing as they chatted about the imagery on their departure from the theatre.