National Theatre: Pinocchio – No Strings Attached!

When You Wish Upon a Star….

Ask most parents what they’re wishing for at this time of year and I’ll bet sitting for a couple of hours in a darkened room would be RIGHT up there at the top of the list!  Yup – it’s a busy time of year. Add a comfy chair, some chocolate and the biggest sprinkling of MAGIC you could imagine, and you’re in the audience of the Lyttelton Theatre for the Nationals production of Pinocchio.

Pinocchio, the story first penned by Italian children’s author Carlo Collodi in 1883, has always been a hit in our house with the kids excitedly choosing a marionette puppet from our holiday in Tuscany last year.  So when we were invited to attend the new theatre show at The National – it was perfect.

Except, we ALMOST didn’t get through the door since some of the reviews made the show sound like this stage offering was gonna scare my kids half to death – not exactly the pre-Christmas vibe I was wanting to create for some holiday family fun!  But, crucially those reviews were written by theatre critic adults, most of whom hadn’t taken kids with them.  So – here it comes from the heart, from a mother with an 11 and 8 year old in tow.  And not a nose-grow-in-sight!

The show is M-A-G-I-C-A-L!   End of. SOUTHBANKFirst off, The National is located on London’s stunning Southbank, which makes for a pretty epic family experience. We arrived early to enjoy a stroll, taking in the full experience – hot chocolate, watching an artist and his sand sculptures on “the beach” (who knew there was sand next to The Thames?), checking out the skaters at the skate park – Southbank is one of my favourite areas of London at any time of year but at Christmas, it’s just that extra bit special. So I totally recommend arriving early to take it all in, not to mention getting to the theatre early to check out the gorgeous styling of the foyer, and the stunning shop. FOYERBy the time we made our way into the Lyttelton Theatre itself, we were all like coiled springs.  Never underestimate the novelty of stepping into the unknown with a theatre trip when you’re a child.  I totally remember it as a kid myself:  the anticipation hanging in the air, the stage looking so enormous, the feeling that something special was about to happen, the “treat” of it all.  Before the show even began, my kids were IN as they excitedly leafed through the program.

And then, it happened!

From it’s snow-globe-esque beginning (don’t be late – the start is beautiful) to its EPIC sets  (“HOW did they get that on the stage mummy“?) to it’s incredible performances, to its mind-blowing scale and puppetry, this is a show I could watch again and again.  I always think there’s a danger of giving too much away in reviews, so I don’t want to spoil anything but here’s everything you’d want to know as a parent:

Brought to life by the John Tiffany, director of Harry Potter & The Cursed Child and Dennis Kelly, writer of Matilda the Musical, these guys should know how to transport you to other worlds, and boy do they as the story heads from Gepetto’s workshop as Pinocchio (Joe Idris Roberts), the puppet who longs to be human, goes exploring with his buddy Jiminy Cricket (Audrey Brisson).  Along the way they encounter The Fox (David Langham) as they head through forests to  Pleasure Island – even the bottom of the ocean (in the most breathtaking scene).

I didn’t really know the story of Pinocchio before arriving at the theatre, which I quite liked.  I remembered the songs, having watched bits of the Disney cartoon as a child but couldn’t remember the story so was watching it with a child-like innocence and lack of expectation.OPENINGMy kids were enthralled from the start and, unusually for a family cinema or theatre experience,  you could notice a distinct lack of fidgeting in the under 10’s in the audience. The styling of the whole thing is stunning and the special effects and puppetry added the WOW! I showed my 8 year old pictures before we went since, with Pinocchio played by a man, everything else has to be up-scaled to make him look small so the scale of some of the puppets could be a bit overwhelming for a small-ish child. SCALEThe scale is probably the main element some kids could find slightly frightening if they weren’t prepared for it?  Everything from giant character faces with their human bodies, to the super-tall Fox with his platform shoes and gravity defying top hat.  But my son Akira is obsessed with puppets, having recently acquired a rod puppet of his own for his birthday, so he was fascinated by the mechanics of the whole thing and loved that you could “see all the workings”!  STROMBOLIThe Stromboli scene was one of my favourites and, coming just before the interval, cannot be missed.  Get them to cross their legs if they have to (!) but you CANNOT miss the stunning rendition of “I’ve Got No Strings“, complete with marionette stringed puppets and a Moulin Rouge meets Cirque-du-Soleil vibe! Total WOW moment! FAIRThe second half starts with an energetic trip to Pleasure Island and, again, The Coachman is potentially someone small kids might fear if they haven’t been forewarned of his scale.  But the colours and speed of this scene make it exhilarating and the way the Donkey transformations occur left my kids open mouthed and me feeling like I might have had a touch too much eggnog!PLEASUREBEACHThen to the main characters themselves – Joe Idris-Roberts is fantastic as Pinocchio – faultless and rarely off stage – an epic performance!  David Langham creates a suitably rogue-ish Fox and Annette McLaughlin pulls at the strings of a heart nature with her Blue Fairy. Audrey Brisson’s Jiminy Cricket as Pinocchio’s conscience turned out to be a huge star of the show with kids giggling at his one-liners, adults entertained by his quirky “I’m gluten free” character whilst secretly in awe of Audrey’s constant crouching as they relax in their comfy chair! Renditions of “Give A Little Whistle” even led to a bit of whistle-practice around us. jiminyWith our backgrounds in TV, Trey and I know quite a few tricks of the trade but even we were left spellbound by some of the special effects and techniques used on the stage. And, unusually for me, I just got caught up in the moment rather than try to work out how things were done.  Which is a huge credit to the show, for transporting me somewhere beyond my own thoughts in the pursuit of “what it is to be human“.  I went on such a journey there were tears streaming down my face in the final scene and a stunning rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star“.  The “panda-eyes” around us as we left the auditorium told me I wasn’t alone in being moved by the experience. whaleSO – without all the feels:

  • Will you feel glad you went?  Yes!
  • Will you have opened your kids eyes to new theatre techniques they’ve never seen before? Yes!
  • Will you feel like you just made family memories?  ABSOLUTELY!
  • The theatre says it’s for “brave 8 year olds” but I”d probably say “brave 7” –  just show them images beforehand and maybe talk them through the scale to prepare them?

As we walked out onto the dark Southbank with its twinkling Christmas lights, igloos, Christmas Market and music, I felt grateful to The National and cast and crew for creating an experience that would live on in all our memory banks long after the impressive growing nose (yes it happens!) had returned to its natural state!

K x

Pinocchio is running at the National Theatres Lyttelton Theatre from now until 10th April 2018. Our tickets were complimentary for review purposes. All views are my own.  For more information and tickets head to the National Theatre








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