REVIEW: Pinocchio at the Georgian Theatre Royal

From left, stars of Pinocchio Ben Andrew, Nick O'Connor, Sarah Boulter and Marcus Jones.

I missed the bloomin’ football to go watch Pinocchio at the Georgian Theatre Royal.

Okay it was only Portugal v Switzerland but still, it meant I’d not be able to see two icons of the game, Ronaldo and Newcastle Utd’s own Fabian Schar, go head to head. I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little miffed.

But our annual pilgrimage to the Georgian panto is treasured by other members of the family and, to be fair, I needed World Cup watching credit in the bank for more important games to come, so off we trotted.

First things first, I kept up with the plot of Pinocchio. In past pantos that has not always been the case. A couple of years ago I timed how long it took me to lose the thread of what was happening on stage, and it was single digit minutes.

With Pinocchio I followed the storyline from beginning to end, just about. There was a thing in the middle involving a whale which I got about lost with, but I soon got back up to speed.

So anyway Pinocchio is a cracker of a pantomime. Songs, dancing, daftness and jokes, so many jokes. Some of the jokes are for the kids, but a lot more are for the older members of the audience. Some are even a little edgy perhaps.

Anyone — man, woman or otherwise — who makes gags about pronouns these days is taking a bit of a risk .

Fair play also for including a joke about the use of child labour in Apple mobile phone factories, as well as all the ‘he’s behind you’ nonsense. Enjoy opening that new Iphone this Christmas folks.

As well as gags galore, it was to everyone involved’s great credit that the show zipped along at break-a-leg speed. Whether it’s my ridiculously short attention span or not, I do find pantomimes can drag a little, but not this one. The two hours or so seemed to last about as long as the Germans in a major football tournament.

Obviously with the Georgian Theatre being so titchy you can’t get a huge audience in, but what you can do is get everyone feeling very much part of the show. Indeed, for several scenes of Pinocchio the show took place among the audience.

As well as the customary throwing of soft toys and the distribution by the dame of Tunnock’s Teacakes, which sadly does seem to get a little tamer every year presumably down to ‘elf and safety, there were also chases, water pistol fights and cast members regularly popping up from the corners.

I like that. It’s something that a panto and live theatre can deliver that you don’t get from TV or the cinema. No matter how good the Dolby Surround Sound is at the local multiplex, you’re not going to get a grown man dressed as a giant cricket scamper about next to you while you enjoy your popcorn.

And that brings us to the cast. They were all excellent. Everyone’s going to have their favourites. Nick O’Connor looked like he had been playing a dame all his life, despite it only being his second gig dressing up as woman in frilly frocks, in public at least. Marcus Jones was just as good as Pinocchio as he was when he stole the show, and almost got himself a panto Oscar, as George Gaston last year in Beauty and the Beast.

Sarah Boulter, who doubled up to play the blue fairy and Laurence Fox, was involved in my favourite part of the show – the When the Boat Comes In singalong, while Liam McGrath as Mickety Crickety was fabulously insectile, which is perhaps not a quote he will use on his CV but is meant in a good way.

As our little group walked 500 yards back to the car we agreed though that Ben Andrew was the star as the Welsh-Italian baddie Stromboli Jones with a touching vulnerable side. A quick straw poll among the fam suggested Pinocchio will be a hit with audiences this winter, with the comments including ‘best yet’, ‘yeah really good’ and “what was the footy score”.