You might think that the hottest panto in town would be found in the heart of The West End, but every year down in Vauxhall, Above The Stag present their legendary adult panto, and this year it’s  Pinocchio: No Strings Attached written by Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper.  Everyone’s favourite boy puppet gets the full pantomime treatment, and it is without doubt one of the best nights out you can have this festive season.

Bradfield and Hooper’s script takes all our favourite parts of Pinocchio, and gives them an Above The Stag twist, including having most of the characters gay.  Our Dame for the evening is puppet maker Gepetta, fantastically played by Matthew Baldwin who is a natural in the role.  Along with her niece, Cornetta and their cat, Chianti, the trio have settled in the quiet Italian town of Placenta, on the run from the Vatican police for stealing a saucily titled painting from the Pope.

Evil landlord, Figaro (boo, hiss) is threatening to evict them from their tiny studio, its surprising he has time, looking at the footballer he’s just purchased for the town’s Sunday league team. Even though boatman, Pedro, has designs on Gepetta, Fatima the Fairy (Dami Olukoya) steps in to help Gepetta to find a man of her own, but instead ends up with a little wooden boy named Pinocchio.

The script very cleverly treats this like any ‘family friendly’ pantomime, so watching it feels like being a child again, you just get to appreciate the filth a whole lot more as an adult.  The writers have also ensured that nothing is set up just as a one-time gag, the themes carry on throughout the production, and a highlight is the audience singalong involving many types of pasta.

The saucy jokes and double entendres are marvellous and very well executed, particularly from Matthew Baldwin’s Gepetta, and it probably doesn’t come as a spoiler that when this Pinocchio tells a lie, it isn’t his nose that grows bigger!  If anything, given the audience demographic, Pinocchio: No Strings Attached could have been even saucier, there would certainly have been no complaints from us.

Andrew Beckett directs a fantastic cast; Christy Bellis and Briony Rawle work beautifully together as Cornetta and Chianti, while Oli Dickson plays the vacuous footballer to perfection. Christopher Lane is a wonderfully exaggerated villain, and Shane Barragan is so delightfully charming as Pedro, that the whole audience seemed ready to jump in his boat and sail off in to the sunset with him.

The arrival of Dami Olukoya’s fairy, summoned not by a whistle but by a more unconventional method, brings some rhyming context to the piece, and the dynamic between Olukoya and Baldwin shone through.  Jared Thompson plays Pinocchio flawlessly, full of innocence but with a twinkle in his eye that reminds us exactly what kind of production this is.

Pinocchio: No Strings Attached is wonderfully written and fantastically performed, with real attention to detail in the sets and costumes. This little corner of Italy in Vauxhall shows us just how wonderful pantomime can be for adults, and maintains the venues reputation for seasonal productions.  Fantastico!

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Pinocchio No Strings Attached at Above The Stag Theatre
Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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