Never let it be said that puppetry is just for children. Fine theatre – and that’s what this show is an example of – entrances anyone of any age.
Angela Miguel’s gentle version (no punitive burning of Pinocchio’s wooden feet) of this familiar Italian story runs on Little Angel’s slick characteristic mix of different types of puppet and talented, visible puppeteer/actors who often morph into non-puppet characters. This time there’s a lot of very effective mask work too. The diminutive size of the space and magical, extra-dark auditorium gives Little Angel a unique, almost transcendental atmosphere. And this charming show hits all the buttons in this environment.
Pinocchio is voiced by Lori Hopkins, one of the three puppeteers who manipulate him. She winces, weeps, whoops, chats, yawns and groans on behalf of this naughty, vulnerable puppet – naked wood without the traditional primary coloured get up – who passes through so many procrastinatory episodes when he should be going to school.
The remaining three cast members play all the other parts using an engaging range of puppets. Pinocchio, for example, meets gorgeous bleating goats, is chased by noisy angry cows, duped by the dastardly fox and cat, helped by the Blue Fairy and, eventually, turned into a very sad and drooping donkey – all body language deftly and convincingly managed by fine actors whose voice work is often stunning. Mandy Travis, in particular, can comfortably do men’s voices as well as women’s and moves with fascinating fluidity.
The set, built by Simon Plumridge in collaboration with Peter O'Rourke, who also made puppets for this show as well as directing ingeniously, folds Geppetto’s workshop away to create a central block from behind which most of the action can emerge. There’s some fairly imaginative projection in the second half too although perhaps the opportunity for some shadow puppetry is missed here.
Peter Flood’s atmospheric music uses cello, violin, bass clarinet and percussion on a sound track. The upbeat leitmotiv he gives to Pinocchio whenever the puppet walks on, in various moods, to the next adventure is a neat device.