Review | Pinocchio at Chichester Festival Theatre: 'It's easy to forget you're watching children and amateurs'

Last year the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre premiered Anna Ledwich’s new adaptation of Pinocchio with music by Tom Brady, at the Festival Theatre.

By James George
Thursday, 23rd December 2021, 10:26 am
Archie Elliott (Pinocchio) and company in Chichester Festival Youth Theatre's Christmas 2020 show, Pinocchio. Photo by Manuel Harlan
Archie Elliott (Pinocchio) and company in Chichester Festival Youth Theatre's Christmas 2020 show, Pinocchio. Photo by Manuel Harlan

There was, however, a problem.

That Virus meant that the performances were pretty-much restricted to viewing from home on a computer screen; it was by this method that I reviewed the show last year – and still I loved it.

There is, of course, no way that live theatre can ever truly share its soul through a computer-screen, so it’s been revived this year for their Christmas show and giving the masked public a chance to see it live.

Let’s not beat about the bush here – do it.

This show is, in pretty much every way, beautiful - from its script and score to its direction and choreography and its wonderful set, dripping in pastel-shades, and the beautiful costumes.

Ledwich’s script is far removed from Disney, so don’t go with Disneyesque expectations; it is both stylised and stylish and does not talk down to its audience.

Brady’s music, likewise, rejects Disney and embraces, instead, Sondheim and Schwartz; there are echoes of Into The Woods and Children of Eden here, and that’s got to be a good thing, surely?

Dale Rooks and Bobby Brook’s direction does exactly what it needs to do and the movement from Amy Lawrence is busy and tight and a joy.

And then there’s the cast.

I have said before that, when viewing the CFYT, one needs to constantly remind oneself that you are watching both amateurs and children – because it’s easy to forget. It is ensemble theatre at its finest but there are, of course, some stand-out performances.

Edward Bromell and Ellie Bradbury as Punch and Judy shine; their puppet-movement is excellent and Bradbury’s vocal astonishingly good.

Jack Taylor’s Fox is nicely studied and hugely played; Ella O’Keeffe as Madam Silversaw gives a belting vocal for her song, Wonderland, and there is a stand-out comedy performance from Eva Buckler as a Russian prawn (yes; you read that correctly).

Luke McCrone’s wonderful Mercury – a camp French dog (yes; you read that correctly, too) is also a thing of joy.

As Gepetto, Spencer Dixon is outstanding as is Lewis Rennison as our eponymous hero.

Rennison is never off the stage and the power of his performance never flags. Their vocals are tight and clean and as clear as a bell, particularly Dixon.

The finale – Let Us Be Us – carries the show’s principal message and may just have seduced a tear out of this old cynic’s eye.

Sublime.

Do yourself a favour. Go see it.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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