Left – Danielle Catanzariti and Nathan O'Keefe. Cover – Alirio Zavarce and Nathan O'Keefe. Photos – Tony Lewis
Windmill Theatre and State Theatre Company of South Australia have combined efforts to create a remake of the classic tale Pinocchio. Director Rosemary Myers and writer Julianne O'Brien explain in their programme note that it has come together over an eighteen month period. It is not quite together yet.
Billed as a 'brand new family musical' it is quite difficult to pin down which family members are actually being targeted. The youngest kids around me fell asleep and those that remained awake pointed out their feelings as the play progressed (as kids are wont to do) and they were merciless. There definitely are some jokes that are pitched directly to the adults, but as the play unfolded even the adults grew quiet.
A moment when a fart was captured into a box (because of a clause in a contract) is likely to be a hit on some occasions, just as Geppetto's (Alirio Zavarce) desire to go out and buy 'take away' instead of eating his homemade soup may raise a laugh but problems with timing and delivery worked against these gags on opening night making them stick out as odd choices.
Indeed there are some curious inconsistencies in the story being told that need to be ironed out if it really wants to reach the whole family; here's a no-brainer to start with – at the start of the play Geppetto sells his toy-making tools to buy new shoes for Pinocchio (Nathan O'Keefe), but at the end of the play Geppetto enters with the same tools (d'oh!) which just doesn't make sense. Geppetto talks to these tools quite a lot in the first scenes of the play and they talk back. There is a clear relationship between him and these tools. The moment Geppetto decides to sell them so he can buy his new wooden son some expensive brand name sneakers is a significant moment. How come he has the very same tools he sold at the end of the play?
Then there are the mixed images that distract from clarity. A Blue Girl (Danielle Catanzariti) on a motorcycle is projected onto a large central structure on stage, she is seen riding the motorcycle and then she appears on the stage, so it seems that there are two different people on two different motorcycles, like there is a race happening or something but it is really the same character.
The animated Blue Girl crashes into the tree that Geppetto then cuts down and carves into his talking wooden boy... It wasn't really clear if that was why the Blue Girl was then hanging around Pinocchio as he set off on his adventures, like some sort of ghost.
Likewise there is a long scene of Pinocchio walking to school in his new store-bought shoes which are the focus of a significant development between the 'father and son' early in the story. As Pinocchio walks to school a projection of Pinocchio walking to school appears on the structure behind him, yet in the projection he is not wearing shoes. So are the shoes important? They were the central focus of an argument between Geppetto and Pinocchio, so it seems like they are important, but then they're not? That was difficult to understand.
Yes, these points may seem to be splitting hairs, but I listened intently as they were being raised by various kids in the seats nearby me, and they are fair points. It left me wondering why the production team opted to use these projections along with the real thing on stage at the same time. Plenty of colour and movement provided by the video design (Chris More) looked great but tended to overshadow the action at times and although I can see how adults may see these projections as a great element of the play, like television or cinema effects, I empathised with the murmurings of discontent in the unbroken voices around me. Is there really a need to duplicate these particular things? I found it annoying after a while because it created a gap between the real actors and the story; had the projections simply been bridges from one point to another it wouldn't have grated, but they seemed to be an alternative to the action happening because of the obvious inconsistencies and that didn't make sense.
The design (Jonathon Oxlade) overall is impressive but it doesn't always serve the play or the clarity of the story. It is a wonderfully impressive set except it seemed to dwarf the actors at times. A revolving stage tended to slow the action down more often than not and the choice to repeat elements of the story in other mediums simply made the play seem overly repetitive.
A shadow puppet sequence midway through the second act basically recaps the story for those who have lost any grip of the plot and sadly I think there were quite a few of those; consequently the play dragged at times and seemed a tad incoherent. One scene between Pinocchio and the Blue Girl was very curious with descriptions of an afterlife where the Blue Girl lives, being a place where dead people go and have no names, was particularly awkward.
It does seem like an overwhelming conglomeration of images and ideas at times that doesn't make for especially good theatre. Act one spends a fair amount of time setting up Pinocchio running away from home at the same time as showing Geppetto rejecting him and telling him to leave, which made it difficult to understand on an emotional level. The actors often seemed to be at odds with the technology, shouting into their microphones way too much, pitching their voices like old school pantomime characters all shrill and distorted.
As with most new musicals there are several songs that don't progress the plot, especially one delivered by the big bad villain of the piece; it would be easy enough to cut them out. At one hundred and thirty minutes long, including a twenty minute interval the play could benefit a great deal from some solid editing.
Windmill Theatre and State Theatre Company of South Australia present
Based on the books by Carlo Collodi
Directed and created by Rosemary Myers with writer Julianne O’Brien
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Dates: 8 - 28 July 2012
Tickets: $39 – $29