Pinocchio (review)

YOU’D have to have a heart of oak not to enjoy the quirky, but thoroughly engrossing, story of Pinocchio that is currently thrilling families at The Stables.

The venue delights in finding strange and unusual stories for its Christmas production (a cast dressed as goats and conversing in goat for Heidi: A Goat’s Tale will forever stick in the memory!) and this year they have welcomed back Strangeface who made such an impact on audiences last year with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

The company use a collection of half-masks to allow their actors - amazingly just four of them though there seems double that number - to completely transform into living puppets complete with grotesque and extravagant features that are scary and comic in equal measures.

Their strange appearance can be unnerving for tiny tots but fascinating for older children and there’s the added bonus for everyone that you can go on stage at the end of each performance and put on the masks, try out the costumes, nose around the set and talk to the performers.

Pinocchio is a tale of redemption, of how a misshapen piece of driftwood is carved by an old Italian puppet-maker into his most prized creation.

Once completed he’s astounded to find that the life-sized boy is animated and able to walk and talk and dream of, one day, becoming a real human lad.

But Pinocchio isn’t the most endearing of characters. He’s greedy, heartless and selfish and spends most of the performance getting into one form of trouble or another. His lies, famously, result in a startling transformation to his nose.

Although more than 130-years-old the Carlo Collodi tale has stood the test of time although this isn’t the saccharine version served up by Disney.

There’s no getting over the freakiness of the masks, with their exaggerated features, that turn actors from ladies to men, old to young, and characters from the outrageous to the pathetic. The show also includes original music, created and performed by Mark Dean and a pair of genuine puppets that put on a show (within the show) for Pinocchio, giving one scene an almost Pythonesque absurdity.

Sarah Mardel has recently cut her teeth appearing in the outstanding War Horse for the National Theatre in the West End. Here she is unbelievably transformed into a boy puppet and is totally convincing. Her mask gives her a fixed face which works well for a puppet while her slight frame looks right at home in young boy’s clothes.

Sarah also appears as an old lady, Margarita, who wouldn’t look out of place as the old crone in Snow White.

The rest of the cast - Samuel Davies, Christopher Hawes and Roxanne Palmer play 16 parts between them and the most memorable are the Hawes and Davies double act as Spirit Doctors which provide comic relief in the second half.

Children in the audience will be mesmerised while adults will be impressed by the company’s dexterity and ingenuity.

It is another great show from The Stables. Pinocchio runs until January 7. For tickets and times call the box office 01908 280800 or go online