Windmill Theatre, a company of artists making theatre for children and families out of Adelaide, are one of the smartest companies in the Australian theatre scene. They are cheeky, youthful, and smart all at the same time – never sacrificing one of these arms for another – and it makes their show a pleasure to watch from probably every audience perspective.
Pinocchio, a slick and charming musical theatre take on the classic fairy tale, is absolutely no exception. Staging comes largely thanks to projections, part cartoon, part shadow puppet, all remarkable, and the kinetic energy of the actors is buoyed with a revolve. The props are generally simple but imaginative, which helps create an ever-present sense of both play and superior stagecraft.
Gepetto, a noble clown in the hands of Alirio Zavarice, carves his puppet son Pinocchio (Nathan O’Keefe, a boundless talent) out of a tree that had been the other half of a fatal accident of a Blue Girl (the diminutive, intriguing Danielle Catanzariti, in Windmill’s take on the Blue Fairy) and her motorcycle. This twist of fate gives us a love story a little later on, along with a beautifully adult wistfulness to explore the story’s big questions with a tinge of the Velveteen Rabbit; what it means to be Real.
Pinocchio’s journey – the rebel, lazy boy seduced into all kinds of shenanigans by the evil Stromboli (Paul Capsis, wickedly perfect), the brush with Donkey-dom, his companions on the road (Jude Henshall and Luke Joslin are a cat and a fox and they are both electric) is recognisable and irrepresible, and it hit all the right beats. You could tell, because the children in the audience were captivated. Oohing, aahing, laughing, participating. It was an exciting to be amongst their crowd.
The score, by Jethro Woodward, has a light, punchy surf-rock kind of vibe, melodic and just irreverent enough that it feels rebellious, and the songs are a real success – well-written and impeccably sung. Movement by Carol Wellman Kelly is engaging and dynamic without being overwhelming, and that’s the real strength of the show: it doesn’t try too hard to win you over in any aspect of its production, which means everything ends up winning you over.
It all comes right in the end – Pinocchio and his father are reunited, a boy becomes Real, a Cricket (Jonathon Oxlade, who can play any role and give it a beautiful, but still-funny core) gets an acting job – and everyone leaves their heart approximately five sizes larger. Who could ask for anything more?