The Nose Has It

‘Not too far now!’ The rallying cry of every parent or carer who finds themselves trying to persuade their charges that a trip to London Bridge’s Unicorn Theatre via scooter along Jamaica Road on a wild and windy autumn school night is a really good idea. Truth is relative anyway, I tell myself, especially in a post-truth world. Eventually, we are bathed in Unicorn light and we take our seats for Justin Audibert’s stylish Christmas production of Pinocchio, Ed, Frida and Woody Gray.

The house lights go up and we find the wood-turned boy in Geppetto’s beautifully recreated workshop about to undergo the quest for truth that will turn him to flesh. Susan Harrison’s Marmalade The Cat delights the local school children in the audience with whiskery feline affection as we learn that poor Geppetto, played with pathos by Tom Kanji, is a man yearning to become a father. His dream soon comes true with a wish, a blue moon and Eleanor Wyld’s sassy American Blue Fairy as Peyvand Sadeghian’s Pinocchio springs jerkily to life, all heart and exuberance.  

Tenderly, Geppetto begins to wrap the world in invented truths to protect his boy from harm. Of course, the deeper Pinocchio enters deceit, the longer grows his nose and Geppetto’s faux truths quickly unravel. Mommo, energetically played by Sam Pay, mercilessly toys with him and the brilliantly pink and icky Polpetta – the versatile Eleanor Wyld again. 

The second half is a delight and the stunning simplicity of the menacing Dogfish, brilliantly lit by Ric Mountjoy, has the theatre screaming with joy. The production shifts the scale of the action with style and clarity as we end up inside the belly of the beast for the finale.  

Jean Chan’s colourful stage design nods to Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel, created when Italian rural workers were migrating to cities, innocent of city life and ripe for exploitation. The tale of the wooden boy is a warning to be wary of those that seek to use us for their own ends, like Momo and the hilariously costumed Duchess, in cahoots with Fratello. The switching roles of this ensemble cast underscore the message that we are all duplicitous at times and invention and role play are survival skills.

Our young reviewers scooted home delighted and felt this production to be the perfect end to anti-bullying week. ‘If only our own leaders had noses that grew when they lied!’ They chorused. Maybe they don’t need to if the lie is big enough, we reasoned. Mr Collodi would have been proud.

Unicorn Theatre, 147 Tooley Street, London SE1 2HZ until December 31st. Times: Vary. Admission: £11.50 – £21 under 18s / £14 – £29.50 adults (concs: £3 off ) 

Box Office: 020 7645 0560 –