|reviews > LUTG > PINNOCCHIO|
reviewed by Michael Nunn
"A stunning and sparkling finale to LUTG's
thoroughly enjoyable offerings'
When I saw this production billed, my first thought, like many would have, was of children's stories and pantomime. These automatic prejudices soon came down when I learned that this was to be a new translation and adaptation from a young Italian studying at Lancaster University.
Why should that appeal to a student theatre group and to adult audiences? And why, particularly, for the last show of the academic year? Because Monni has transformed Collodi's original cautionary and very moral tale into a glorious celebration of mayhem, as only an "Italian crazy mind' can (his own self-deprecation from the programme).
The Potters on acid?
Never work with animals or children, goes the old adage, so Monni populates his show with both. Morality? – it transmogrified all the hypocrisy and pious baggage of the late Victorian era into the kinkiness and sleaze of the twenty-first century.
Whilst not drawing directly on characters from the Commedia dell'Arte (save only the Arlechhino/Everyman figure by way of acknowledgement), Monni's influences clearly date back to the early traditions of the zanni (zanies, or male clown) and giullarri (wandering radical and generally very rude medieval actors-cum-singers), as well as reflecting the chaotic state of contemporary Italian politics.
For this show was non-stop fun and chaos in the spirit some will have seen when Antonio Venturino came to The Gregson last November with his equally stunning and zany performance of Dario Fo's Mistero Buffo. Venturino is a Sicilian; are all Italians like that, or is it just the islanders?
Like the Venturino, this show is tricky to describe, too. Based faithfully round the broad outline of the Collodi novel (I found an AmerEnglish translation recently), it takes each episode or adventure and plays every one for all the mayhem it can create. The title role of the puppet-boy was played in drag by the French-speaking Sarah de Block, whose abilities to recreate the mood swings, strident temper-tantrums and awkwardly-developing physical co-ordination of an under-ten formed a consummate performance. It is as if our young nephews and nieces were there …
But perhaps not, for Pinocchio's world is inhabited by transvestites, pussy-prossies, sleazy schoolboys who change into donkeys (yes, even that one wasn't spared, and one of them clad only in vest and briefs furthered the allusion) an outrageous Mr Crow as well as a Circus Director and Fire-Eater whose proclivities are probably best left undefined.
The staging and direction from Monni and his compatriot Assistant Director David Tripepi was excellent too. Full use was made of the whole building as well as the traditional proscenium stage, and the special effects (why did she sit on my knee?) were campy complementary. My partner had to wash the glitter off later in the evening…
"Very simplistic – that's what made is so innocent,' was one interesting comment I heard afterwards. "A mix of all kinds of theatre,' and "It takes theatre back to its roots,' said others. Oh yes it did; this was raw and passionate entertainment we British are so often too reserved to create, leaving it to circus, the better pantomime productions, the less starchy opera outfits and theatre companies from mainland Europe.
Coming down afterwards with a bottle of wine in a (thankfully) quiet pub, I felt as though I had been whisked away on a magic carpet for the night. But the show only lasted some 70 minutes – and that I think sums it up. I felt like a child again (innocent or not I neither care nor want to know) and clamoured for more of that refreshing blast that completely takes us out of ourselves and gives us total if transient mayhem and sheer, sheer joy.
Signor Monni should do well if the theatre is to be his chosen career. He has certainly learned how to rub that lamp and sprinkle the magic dust. He has also discovered the prime goal of every single person in the Arts: leave them wanting more.
I know we did.
Copyright © 19 June 2004 Michael Nunn
Note: The writer gratefully acknowledges the contributions of various members of LUTG and others to this review.
Watch out for LUTG producing a Dario Fo play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, next term – Michael Nunn's preview of their new Autumn Season will follow in due course.