By BRUCE DENNILL
Pinocchio – The Ultimate Pantomime Adventure / Directed by Janice Honeyman / Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
Janice Honeyman’s has now directed 30 pantomimes, presented in an almost unbroken progression since 1979. That’s a record few, if any, can or will be able to match, and it has required deep reserves of creativity to ensure that each new production has its own appeal and is relevant in terms of that year’s current affairs.
This version of Pinocchio – Honeyman’s second take on the enduring material – is a high-energy, brightly-coloured chapter that has the original story at its centre, but padded with several layers of only vaguely related other reasons to sing and dance. The original story is a powerful fable about morals, honesty, courage and familial love that, while tremendously potent, is hardly the light-hearted singalong stuff of a family pantomime, so it’s to be expected that those themes are somewhat diluted.
The sets are lovely – a vibrant village, a gloomy forest, an undersea wonderland and more – and the costumes match that liveliness, as do the dancers that fill them and all the spaces on stage with their excellent choreography and ensemble work. All of these aspects of the piece are minutely detailed, making the show a visual feast.
Kanyi Nokwe excels as the title character, particularly in capturing the movements and mannerisms of a marionette, which requires not only technique in terms of keeping them believable but a great deal of focus in keeping them consistent and sustained. Mark Tatham makes an effective if slightly melancholic Jiminy Cricket, and Grant Towers as Dame Arletti Spaghetti is excessive in all the right ways.
The extent to which panto dialogue and song lyrics connect with the full age range of audience members varies wildly from year to year, and this script connects mostly with younger fans, with the occasional risqué comment thrown in to get a giggle out of the adults. As a slightly older onlooker, it’s not the most satisfying formula – fun, but without much heft.
For the children in the audience, however – and this is the great strength of the pantomime as a genre – Pinocchio is a delight and a compelling reason to be intrigued. They probably can’t figure out the leap from the music and visuals of The Little Mermaid to Phantom Of The Opera at the beginning of Act Two either either (okay, the Phantom thing is a nod to Andre Schwartz, who plays Il Fortunato the here but starred as the title character in the Lloyd Webber and Rice classic years ago). But for them at least, it’s not as bizarre a diversion as it is for more mature members of the crowd trying to recall where Neptune kissing Dory from Finding Nemo fitted into Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel…
This is not the most fluid of Honeyman’s pantomimes, but it continues the single best part of the proud tradition of which it is a part – introducing gobsmacked kids to the wonders of theatre via a flood of music, singing, dancing, humour and drama. And the value of that aspect must never be underestimated.