REVIEW: by Becky Hotchin

IN THE saturated Christmas panto market Milford Haven’s Torch Theatre has come up with a gentler offering this year; the Christmas play Pinocchio.

Still offering a good deal of audience participation and a selection of superb songs Pinocchio begins with clever use of puppetry to set the scene and tell Geppetto’s back-story.

The puppetry continues throughout the show with a soaring seagull, a dramatic performance at Ravenelli’s theatre and crab puppets singing under the sea.

Geppetto ages thanks to a subtle swop of actors to become the lonely old man, poor and hungry fishing for his tea in a shack by the sea until a blue haired “fairy”, played beautifully by the honey-voiced Jodie Micciche, changes his luck.

Pinocchio comes to life, followed quickly by the entrance of the evil duo Freddi Fox and Felina. A little too quickly I felt as there was no time to establish a rapport between the puppet and his papa before this fiendish furry twosome took to the stage.

Freddie, played by the Torch’s usual dame Dion Davies, and his feline sidekick, played to perfection by Emma Hirons, punctuate the show with their incompetent villainy, great comic timing and a selection of songs and dances. They are a great pair of characters and I got the feeling that, as the public run progresses, there will be more interaction between them and the audience.

Another brilliantly-played beastie was Cricket, in an eye-catching costume and with superb stage presence, Kayed Mohamed-Mason really gave this character some oomph. His entrances and exits were dramatic and his camp Italian rendition of the character highly entertaining.

Mohamed-Mason’s other character, Lampwick, had a great musical number with a variety of styles which led Pinocchio off the straight and narrow. I did feel like he needed a bit more interaction with the audience though; we were part of his posse, he told Pinocchio. I felt like there could have been some interaction with the audience to make us part of his gang.

Will Taylor played a great Pinocchio, conveying the vulnerability, naivety and optimism of out hero through wide-eyed expressions and subtle physicality.

The energy stepped up in the second half with the audience joining Freddie in his Feeling Foxy number and an intensely creepy toy town with the versatile Dudley Rodgers, who also played Geppetto and Ravanelli, as the spooky MC.

There was a clever transformation of Pinocchio and Lampwick into donkeys and an eye-catching under water scene where a suspended Pinocchio learns to swim.

The insides of the man-eating shark were cleverly rendered onto the stage, and praise must go to Sean Crowley, for his stunning design. The production looked fantastic – from Geppetto’s shack to the stylised money tree and the eerie ambience of Toytown.

Inside the shark there was a dramatic (sword) fish fight that my five-year-old absolutely adored and some more great characterisation from Felina and Freddie Fox.

Pinocchio ends with huge dose of feelgood factor; a beautifully sung chorus number wishing the audience a happy Christmas while the stage snow falls. It is during this number you realise what a small cast the play involves and how versatile the actors have been.

Perhaps the last word of this review should go to the five-year-old. The day after our visit I asked him what he thought of Pinocchio. His answer, a resounding “I loved it”.