Pinocchio, The Greatest Wonder of the Age, Lyric theatre, Belfast, November 28, 2021

By Conor O’Neill

Photography courtesy of Carrie Davenport

Welcome, welcome, welcome to Collodi’s, possibly the most dysfunctional circus this side of Hades. Over the next hour and three quarters we enter the realm of the Red Lobster, Mr Fox, a Talking Cricket, Mr Keys, Lady Cat, Swallowfire and probably the most famous puppet in the world, Pinocchio.

The Greatest Wonder of the Age is quite a statement, but does this Lyric production live up to expectations?

I was brought up on the 1940 Disney film, and all it really said to me was ‘don’t lie or your nose will grow’. This adaptation, music, book and lyrics by Paul Boyd is far left field of Disney’s classic.

And there’s little nuances that’ll be lost on children but will resonate with adults. But kids will love this too. With Covid restrictions still in place, the Lyric’s mainstage is almost full, not that you would know it by the reaction of the crowd as the curtain falls.

Puppeteer Paul Currie’s creation is equally macabre and endearing. Think Tim Burton on a happyish day and you’re on the money. The tale, however is far removed from my childhood memories. Geppetto is now Joe, Jiminy Cricket is now the Talking Cricket and things are really turned on its head.

The Blue Fairy is still the magic behind the script, plus there’s the Tree of Truth, from which Pinocchio is carved, and withers when our little boy gets led astray. Basically, forget the Disney flick and arrive at this with fresh eyes and ears.

Speaking of ears, there’s an orchestra somewhere, I haven’t a notion where the Lyric puts them but musical director Oli Rew knows what’s what. Add to that, some of the actors are also accomplished musicians in their own right., making this show all the more enjoyable. There’s nothing like seeing a cricket playing a violin to warm the heart.

Every show needs a villain, enter Swallowfire, played by Allison Harding. Boot-camp material here. She runs with both a beard and hardened muscle to control the frightened performers with an iron fist. This lady is not for turning, but will her comeuppance be realised?

As for the other six actors, all play their parts with agency and true energy. This show may be only two days in the running but it’s obvious director Paul Boyd has a well drilled team. Add to the fact the director/writer/lyricist/chief musician ad infinitum is also the understudy for Mr Fox and Pinocchio’s creator Joe and with Richard Clements currently unable to play the role, Boyd steps in and shows he’s more than the man in the shadows.

The rest of the cast runs like a who’s who of Northern Irish and British theatre darlings. To display their credentials here would take me four days to write and probably an hour for you to read. Christopher Finn’s Pinocchio is tremendous, not only acting but almost two hours of walking about with a puppet connected to his feet must be a strain. Christina Nelson’s Lady Cat, Richard Russel Edward’s Red Lobster – gender is not a restriction here – Eimear Fearon’s Talking Cricket and Michael Mahoney’s Mr Keys are all essential to the plot.

So, back to my original concern… is this musical worthy of your hard earned cash? Well, the first act is somewhat plodding, probably necessary due to the script having to replenish itself from popular expectations for those of us endeared by Disney’s movie.

But after the interval things really get hot. The plot thickens and we all know the outcome.

If there is a moral to this Christmas tale it’s the the power of the individual; all characters realise or see the demise of their nature due to their deeds.

It’s Christmas, good overcomes evil and we all leave the Lyric with a spring to our step.

Pinocchio: The Greatest Wonder of the Age runs right up to December 31st. Your kids will love it, you will love it and what a lovely end to November.

For booking details visit http://www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or phone the box office on 02890 381081

ENDS

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