Impeccable Ease and Skill

PINOCCHIO, Jasmin Vardimon Company, 15 November 2016, Pavilion Theatre Worthing

Jasmin Vardimon Company’s new family show Pinocchio is an exciting and lively combination of physical characters, dramatic puppetry, flying set, and high-octane contemporary dance. Based on the original Carlo Collodi story, the show leads us through the emotional journey Pinocchio embarks on to become a real human.

Maria Doulgeri introduces us to her convincing portrayal of the disjointed wooden boy with impeccable ease and skill until he is lured off course en route to his first day of school by the cat and fox. Other characters are introduced with quirky and brilliantly distilled idiosyncratic physical languages that are clear and charming.

Pinocchio progresses through a number of scenes that are clearly distilled down into one emotional challenge at a time (e.g. anger, fear, loneliness, etc) that he must face to become a human. The fear scene is surprisingly emotive, and was a welcome balance to the persistent and almost saccharin innocence of Pinocchio. Originally Pinocchio was a dark tale ending in the boy being hung from a tree by the cat and the fox. While the show nudges at a darker side, as with many adaptations, this one opted for a sweeter interpretation.

The show is packed full of playful innovation, from the staging to the props to the use of bodies, however the elements are selected and stripped back such that it does not feel cluttered. The use of lengths of material to create a chorus of sound and the convincingly raging sea were particularly pleasing. The physicality of the action and movement is commendably taken to its fullest at all times – not by making the movements bigger, more theatrical or over exaggerated but by skilfully translating words, gestures and emotions into the body. This magnifies their impact in such a recognisable way that the audience empathise, at times in quite a visceral way, with the plight of Pinocchio to join in with the human world.

The transitions from physical theatre to slickly choreographed movement phrases were good and the sparing use of voice and speech by the dancers was excellent - the unnoticeable transitions are a rarely found delight. As you would expect from Vardimon, the dance phrases were powerful and delivered at full velocity whilst making impressive use of choreographic devises like retrograde. I was pleased to see that despite the dancers’ accomplished skill and raw commitment to their actions, they were still relatable humans on stage.

I thoroughly enjoyed many elements of the work, though overall it somehow didn’t sit together as a smooth, continuous journey. I wonder if I took my 5-year old nephew (who doesn’t know the story) to see the show, if he would clearly grasp why Geppetto was searching at sea for his son while Pinocchio didn’t seem to pay him a mind? More importantly though, would this detract from the overall sense of wonderment and joy the show conveys? I don’t think it would. I’ll definitely be taking my nephew along when the show returns to Brighton in April 2017. He can be the judge.

Elise Phillips | @eliseaphillips