The story of Pinocchio is a well-known one. The little puppet who had to prove himself to become a “real” boy and the owner of the nose that grew whenever he told lies was first written as a serial and released as a book in 1883. It has been translated into hundreds of languages and had countless adaptations. The stage version currently playing at the Sydney Opera House is unique in that it is rooted in a very dark and modern setting.

Some of the characters in this adaption, created by Rosemary Myers and written by Julieanne O’Brien (Blue Heelers, Backberner) are similar to Carlo Collodi’s (Carlo Lorenzini’s) book and even Walt Disney’s famous film version. But the similarities to the latter end there as this show stars no Blue Fairy per se (but there are similarities to the character, Blue Girl). This play is also much more sinister at times with some young children possibly finding things a little scary, especially when the villains are involved. There is also a lot of music in this version of Pinocchio but the song, “When You Wish Upon A Star” (another Disney-invention) is noticeably absent, but the audience are still treated to lots of jokes and puns in the dialogue, which are a good contrast against the overall blackness and gloom.

The proceedings open with Blue Girl (Danielle Catanzariti) riding a motorbike in the air just like a scene from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. She crashes and remains largely unseen until the second act and this is a rather strange opening. It then feels like the story begins proper, as the sad, forlorn and poor toymaker, Geppetto (Alirio Zavarce) pines for his own son. He eventually builds a marionette he christens, Pinocchio (Nathan O’Keefe (All Saints)). Initially, Pinocchio is an obnoxious and cheeky child and O’Keefe does an excellent job of playing up all of the aspects of physical comedy associated with the character. At times this means he resembles Frank Woodley and he does manage to convey this naughtiness with a sense of real heart.

Along the way the rich but infinitely unhappy Stromboli (Paul Capsis (Angela’s Kitchen)) offers Geppetto $5 million for the boy but the toymaker declines. Capsis is a real revelation here, he is so camp and funny and at many points he steals the show as the treacherous villain luring Pinocchio away along with the animals he befriends, Kitty Poo (Jude Henshall) and Foxy (Luke Joslin). But Geppetto never loses sight of his son, even after the boy is a troublemaker and bully at school. The lowly toymaker tries to save him from Playland but Pinocchio is then seduced by the bright lights of Stromboliwood.

The show boasts a bombastic, modern soundtrack written by Jethro Woodward (The Turning, Van Diemen’s Land) who doubles as the musical director. The cast sing superbly and the music keeps the energy high, even as darker moments are explored during the story like when Geppetto desires his own son, the child rejects him and the villain, Stromboli wreaks havoc by pulling strings. The set is excellent and contains various levels, peepholes, doors and passageways and is excellent as Geppetto’s house, a deserted island, a school, Stromboliwood and Playland.

The costumes are colourful and fit in well with the choreography and overall feel of the show. At times the acting was a little overdone but this was in keeping with the children’s story and for the most part added to the silly, fun and humorous nature of things. There were also some very modern and local references in the dialogue with “Fitness First Fox”, Logie awards and actors hitting paparazzi, to name a few. This all added extra colour and flavour and lifted the show from being mere child’s play. Pinocchio was also a rather exciting piece that had multiple layers including some bright, animated sequences by Chris More. Jonathon Oxlade meanwhile, had to perform the cricket character with a puppet (and this creature also interacted with the audience and made the children laugh during the interval).

Pinocchio is a funny and cheeky series of episodes starring the puppet boy we all know and love. When you strip away at the layers this is a true morality tale where people can learn about the importance of hard work, honesty and integrity from some characters that are larger than life. Pinocchio is a colourful and energetic adaptation of a story that hones in on the tale’s darker elements and marries this with local and modern references, meaning you won’t have to get in touch with your inner child to appreciate this mischievous marionette-turned-real-boy.

Originally published on 14 April 2014 at the following website:

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