Carlo Collodi’s perennial tale of a puppet who want’s to be a real boy has such a firm core it can withstand quite radical reinvention. Teater Patrasket’s production of Pinocchio, presented by Harbourfront Centre as part of their JUNIOR Festival, is full of dark whimsy. The aesthetic of director Alex Byrne’s production is a richly textured and foreboding blend of Big Top and Vaudeville. An evocative patina of grime and a sickly atmosphere pervades everything; this is a world of torn, stained clothing, beady eyes and tiny exposed ribs.
The backdrop is a worn and faded circus tent. Musical instruments, masks and movable lighting fixtures are strewn about. The cast (Maria Myrgård, Dirck Backer, Signe Kærup Dahl, and Bastian Popp), presenting as a ragtag troupe of traveling performers, wield these disparate objects in their telling of this tale. Christina Tidemand Greth’s costumes have a withered elegance, as if years of rough use have left them ragged.
This is a significantly abridged version of tale that does without many iconic fixtures of the narrative. There is no Fairy with Turquoise Hair, no companion-conscience Jiminy Cricket. The relationship between Pinocchio and his humble woodcarver father, Geppetto, still grounds the story and many of Pinocchio’s key lessons are addressed on his journey to developing a moral centre.
One of the distinctive embellishments to the story is Pinocchio’s construction. He’s been cobbled together haphazardly here—irregular sized hands and a wheel for a foot. In addition to refining his virtue in the face of tempting, indulgent distractions, he must also learn to see the valuable in his less-than-perfect physical form.
Crucial for children’s theatre, the audience participation is element is well-structured. When he’s faced with a pivotal dilemma, performers ask the audience what Pinocchio “should do” and follow up it up with what they think he “will do.” Noteworthy: children seem to instinctively know that, in a story, a character will almost always do the “wrong thing.” It’s as if they know, in their guts, that bad decisions lead to the most interesting story.
Innovative, dynamic highlights include the truly creepy masks and puppets; live musical accompaniment throughout, supporting the Vaudeville vibes; some charming comedy; and a delightful sense of dress-up and horseplay that fosters intimacy and immerses the audience in the spectacle.
Though Pinocchio—through mistakes and redemption—makes it through with his integrity intact, this production conveys the sinister undercurrents of the story. It shows kids that people with good intentions do exist, sure, but the world is full of deceitful predators ready to exploit your fears and desires.
It’s useful and instructive to be a little bit scared sometimes. In stories, all the ick and yikes can also be fun! This Pinocchio from Denmark’s Teater Patrasket serves it all up with style.