PINOCCHIO | National Theatre, London

Disney and the National Theatre have teamed up to create a somewhat darker retelling of the 1940 animated musical classic. Set on a (pretty much) bare stage with a plain black backdrop, it’s the songs and the story you love, given a solidly charmless reworking.

Everyone, apart from shouty, relentlessly perky Pinocchio (Joe Idris-Roberts) is a gigantic, 15-foot high puppet. They look heavy and cumbersome, and require about four overworked operators each. Their skin is rough, pale and textured, with sparkling eyes, and their mouths don’t move. For Stromboli (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr) and the Coachman (David Kirkbride), this towering terror fits their characters, made even more panto villain than their 1940 counterparts; however for Geppetto (Mark Hadfield) and the Blue Fairy (Annette McLaughlin), it’s somewhat uncanny and grotesque.

To the audience, Pinocchio is visibly real from the beginning, which undercuts the driving force of the story, but makes Pinocchio’s longing for physical transformation about how he sees the world. An interesting recharacterisation sees the Blue Fairy as morally ambiguous. Jiminy Cricket (Audrey Brisson) is played out as a squeaky, confused and explicitly annoying. It’s very difficult to like any character, so, coupled with the intense sentimentality of the story and lyrics, the result is decidedly weird, or even unpleasant.

Thankfully, there are some extremely visually arresting scenes, including the entire “Pleasure Island” sequence, and the dive (read: aerial choreography and spectacular lighting) into the ocean to meet Monstro the Whale. Some of the new, stripped-back orchestrations (Martin Lowe) offer something a little more original than the familiar schmaltz. But frankly, there is something stomach-turning about the implications of playing out the orchestral Disney theme tune, “When You Wish Upon A Star” in the tax-funded, British government-subsidised National Theatre. Somewhere along the way of wanting to become “real”, something’s gone very wrong.

Pinocchio is booking till 10 April 2018.

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