Review: Pinocchio. Neville Studio. Nottingham Playhouse.

There have been many excellent winter season Nottingham Playhouse Neville Studio productions dedicated to entertaining and making Christmas particularly magic for the very little ones over the last five years but this year’s most beautiful production of Pinocchio is an – all out – absolute winner. Even this grumpy old reviewer finds himself welling up with tears of joy and empathy as Geppetto (Ben Welch) sings wistfully about wishing for a son to make his latter years complete and then conjurers up Pinocchio (Karr Kennedy) from carved wooden body parts with the help of the diddy kids in the audience – of course. Welch proves himself particularly adept at working with the children’s choices and their amusingly incorrect descriptions of the body parts as he constructs the puppet.

As a theatre-goer and reviewer it is especially gratifying to see that Nottingham Playhouse have offered acting and writing opportunities to three early career creatives namely the writer Sarah Middleton, Ben Welch and Karr Kennedy. With directorial help from Hannah Stone and movement director Kitty Winter, along with a gorgeously creative stage design by Georgie White, this production shines. Lighting designer Will Welch provides some truly beautiful moments. It is all about engaging with the imagination both from the creatives and the young audience and their understanding of the piece. Music, co-lyrics and sound design comes courtesy of Darren Clarke.

Ben Welch takes up the baton of not only being the gently calming woodcraft’s person Geppetto, who the children really take to, but also half a dozen larger-than-life characters throughout the one act show. Karr Kennedy’s destiny confused Pinocchio is no wooden personality but comes thrillingly to life on stage as a beguiling, fun and feisty puppet on a journey to find the Blue Fairy to make Pinocchio into a real boy. His innocent hope is of transforming via a magical contract – with no strings attached. On the way Pinocchio bumps into story-book characters both cunning and also needing of his help. If only he could stop himself making things up! Two of the highlights of this show are his encounter with the dance awkward Lady Mayor and the chatterbox luminescent green cricket.

There are plenty of chances for the children (and adults) to get involved. Some very catchy songs help the action along and before you know it the story is complete and the little children in the audience are dancing happily on stage with Geppetto and Pinocchio. What a superbly magical way to introduce small children to the glory that is children’s theatre and an important life story about inclusivity, love and self-worth.

Pinocchio by Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company runs at The Neville Studio until  Sat 4th Jan then tours.

Pinocchio production photos credit: Fraser Youngson.

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