Writers: Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper
Director: Andrew Beckett
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
it feels quite liberating to go to a Christmas panto without facing the annual controversy about what is or isn’t fit to serve up for the kids. Above the Stag’s offering is just what it says on the poster – “an adult pantomime”. More specifically, it is “LGBTQ+ friendly”, but there is no reason to regard it as unfriendly to anyone else, except perhaps those people who have been making a fuss this week over a male couple dancing together on Strictly Come Dancing.
The source for this production is Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio, which became much more widely known through Walt Disney’s classic 1940 animated film. It tells of puppet-maker Geppetto, who creates the title character and sees him come magically to life. Working from that starting point, writers Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper take the story in all sorts of directions of their own to create a show for which audiences can write the double entendres on their way into the theatre, knowing that no innuendo will be left unturned.
Here, Geppetto, a man, becomes Geppetta, a woman who is, in the best British panto dame traditions, played by a man (Matthew Baldwin). Showing complete command of the bawdy material, Baldwin runs much of the show, ad-libbing freely and connecting with the audience with gay abandon. Geppetta’s sidekick, played by Christy Bellis, Cornetta (not a female ice cream) claims to be the only lesbian in town, although the fairy, Fatima (Dami Olukoya) could have other ideas. The town on the Italian coast is Placenta, of which Geppetta and Cornetta are not natives; they arrived there “after birth”.
Jared Thompson’s Pinocchio comes to life with a beaming smile, eagerly anticipating the pleasures that the world has to offer, starting with Joe (Oli Dickson), a footballer transferred to Placenta from Walsall. Pinocchio is cursed by a proboscis which grows when he tells lies, just as in the original; well not exactly as in the original. In the mayhem that follows, the foxy Figaro (Christopher Lane) is a very hissable villain, Chianti (Briony Rawle) is a very bolshie cat and Pedro the boatman (Shane Barragan) is a very frustrated suitor of Geppetta.
Andrew Beckett’s lively production tunes in perfectly to the risqué material. Bradfield contributes several original songs, the lyrics of which follow the style of a script that seems to work on the principle of raising a laugh around once every 30 seconds. Some of the gags are topical, or at least, as admitted by Geppetta, they were topical when the script was finished in August. Otherwise, the humour is one-note and this becomes a little wearing, particularly when, on press night, the show went on for almost three hours (including interval). Some trimming is definitely needed.
It is all too easy to find flaws, but what is the point in analysing a show like this too deeply? It is what it is – harmless fun, frolics and filth. Oh yes it is!
Runs until 11 January 2020 | Image: PBG Studios