I’ve never been a fan of Pinocchio; back when children’s movies had to have at least one sequence intended to permanently scar youngsters, Disney’s Pinocchio excelled in this area. Yes, I’m referring to the notorious part of the otherwise endearing tale where Pinocchio is tricked into visiting “Pleasure Island,” a creepy amusement park where kids can run amok, which turns out to be merely a front for a child trafficking ring that turns kids into donkeys then sells them to salt mines.
Thankfully, there aren’t any Cronenberg-esque donkey transformations or child trafficking in this Unicorn Theatre rendition, for both my benefit and that of my kids. Instead, we had a cat, a fairy, a tonne of creative staging, one tense moment with a dogfish, and my kid dove under my arm.
However, we can be assured that we are in capable hands at the Unicorn, the largest children’s theatre in the nation, where they never put on a subpar performance. This is their major Christmas play, which Eve Leigh adapted. Peyvand Sadeghian portrays the wooden toy that comes to life after being granted a desire for a kid by a blue fairy and the lonely Gepetto (Tom Kanji). By the next full moon, Pinocchio will transform into a genuine boy if he can avoid the falsehoods that cause his proboscis to rise and pay attention to his conscience (in this case, a mosquito that starts buzzing around).
My seven-year-old daughter and ten-year-old son both found the show to be extremely engaging, and there were enough of jokes, sorrowful moments, songs, and moments of hilarity to keep things moving at the pace necessary for primary school students. Eleanor Wyld and Sam Pay, who play various parts, as well as Susan Harrison’s Marmalade the cat, provide the most of the giggles and audience interaction.
Kanji also enjoys himself in his secondary part as toy vendor Fratello, who, in a charming scene, utterly prostrates himself before a queen to the point where he begins to float over the floor. My youngster wisely said, “You can tell the performers adore doing it.”
In a finely crafted play that takes pains to point out that telling the truth does not necessarily mean only “being obedient,” Sadeghian is a swirl of energy and sensitivity concerning parental “control.” Instead, being truthful is a way to let people see the real you. This turned out to be a pretty wonderful thread that was easy enough for even the parents to understand.
My daughter described the experience as “wonderful,” while my son described it as “a humorous and touching trip” (my son, making a big play to get on the poster). My personal conclusion is “No donkeys. four (5) stars