With the challenges of Coronavirus restrictions, theatre companies have been forced to adapt, and online has become the new frontier for the stage. While many companies have broadcast pre-recorded material, or used Zoom to deliver live performances from multiple locations, Guildford Fringe Theatre Company have invested heavily to bring us a live stage performance of their summer adult panto Pinocchio Gets Wood.
Traditional panto is always laden with innuendo that flies above the heads of its youngest audience members, while keeping the adults entertained. Any pretence of innuendo goes out the window in an adult panto, and James Chalmers’ script for Pinocchio Gets Wood is no exception, the pure filth is shockingly hilarious.
It’s the typical Pinocchio story, but this wooden puppet is carved from old dildos by Dame Ciabatta, to provide her frigid daughter with a companion. Needless to say, when this Pinocchio tells a lie, it’s not his nose that grows longer. The cast of four (often playing multiple roles) regularly break in to songs, penned by director Nick Wyschna and Charlotte Bateup, that are as rude as the dialogue, “bring her off” to the tune of ‘Bring Him Home’ sung in to a dildo microphone was a particular highlight.
This is a bold and brash production, brimming with enthusiasm, and clearly the cast are having the time of their lives. Unlike other online productions, this is fully staged with costumes and props, filmed and broadcast live from the stage of the (empty) The Back Room of the Star Inn in Guildford. But this doesn’t feel like something happening in an empty room, it feels alive and the production team have made every effort to make audience members sitting at home feel like they are really there.
A pre-show questionnaire sent to audience members ahead of time means there’s an opportunity to reference viewers on the night, and audience members will not regret submitting their questionnaire in good time. While the current situation is acknowledged, it doesn’t distract from this very unique brand of British humour that has you giggling in one moment, and gasping in incredulity in the next.
The cast (Daniel Page, Rachel Warrick-Clarke, Andrew Franklin and Tamsin Lynes) do a marvellous job, leaping from one role to the next. Chalmers script, though often obscene, is remarkably clever, and in particular gives Dame Ciabatta (Daniel Page) plenty to work with. One scene which involves a class register being taken, and the rudely named pupils being split in to groups is astonishingly funny.
While panto is often, unfairly, regarded with contempt, this slick production and the team behind it achieves so much. The quality of the broadcast is excellent, and the audience are enveloped into the action. My only disappointment was that it reached its climax too soon, and the running time of an hour was a little too short when we were all enjoying ourselves so much.
Pinocchio Gets Wood is a raucous fun filled evening that is probably best enjoyed in a group. Just make sure the little ones are in bed, and anyone remotely prudish has made alternative arrangements.
Pinocchio Gets Wood broadcasts live at 8pm on 10th, 11th and 12th September 2020. Tickets are on sale here.