Pinocchio is a classic fairy tale which most children will have heard before. Be it through warnings from parents not to tell fibs or from the Disney film they will know of the puppet who became a boy. However, what the Jasmin Vardimon company’s telling of the beloved story does is return Pinocchio to its Italian roots and bring the darker aspects of the tale to life in an age appropriate way, educating children on the trials and tribulations of life. It is enlightening for children to be exposed to the more realistic nature of the original story, which had been written at a time when Italian society was debating the merits of educating all children rather than just those of a higher class.
It was interesting to see how a physical theatre dance piece could effectively bring Pinocchio to the stage with the story’s various important locations (inside the whale!) and quirks such as Pinocchio’s extending nose and growth of donkey’s ears. However, Vardimon beautifully integrated this into the movement alongside the creation of some human marionettes, with some of the most stunning physical theatre I have ever seen. It was hypnotic to see the dancers move in complete sync with the strings attached to them, movements very restrained and choreographed to look as accurate as possible. By far the most impressive and incredible piece was that of Pinocchio’s first dance as he went from being a puppet to discovering the use of his limbs. How the dancer playing Pinocchio could contort his limbs so fluidly and throw his body around at impossible angles was astonishing to watch. The relationship between Pinocchio and Geppetto was heart-warming and clearly one of complete trust as Geppetto threw Pinocchio around the stage encouraging him to stand and prove that he was a real boy.
The beautiful set further helped to restablish the idea of marionettes and puppets as they flew around the stage, creating an ever-changing fluid scenery that adapted effectively to whatever was required on stage. It was testament to Vardimon’s and Guy Bar-Amotz’s vision that the company had such a set that so beautifully represented the gap between real-life and puppetry. It worked seamlessly alongside the lighting design with the precision of the lights being absolutely stunning. The tepee which doubled as Pinocchio’s home, the circus tent as well as the blue fairy’s dress was brought to life through the intricate lighting design that could alter according to where the tepee was. Upside down, inside out, stretched out, the light still fitted perfectly with no spill onto the stage. The starlit glittering night that was projected onto the tepee for the blue fairy as she was lifted high to sit atop it, was beautiful and entirely realistic. Similarly, when the set lifted to raise the two mad men with their beers across the stage, it was just jaw-dropping and seamlessly choreographed into the routine.
The company was extremely talented, effortlessly performing Vardimon’s complex routines. Their command of their bodies was incredible, as seen through their hand movements creating the narrator, that expressed emotion with ease from even the slightest tilt of the hand. One got the impression that the company prided itself on its meticulous attention to detail and were aware of the ways to get the most out of single movements. One unique feature was the use of six dancers to create an extended arm for the Ring Master in order to enhance the dominance of his scary presence. The dancers faded away to become just arms to the audience. There was never a time where I found myself seeing what they were trying to do and yet missing it by just an inch, everything worked exactly how they wanted. It is this level of experience and execution that made Pinocchio a delight to watch and establishes the Vardimon company as the innovators and leaders of British physical theatre that they are today.
Reviewed by: Tabitha James and Álvaro Jurado