4 Aug

Pinocchio at the Ambassadors Theatre ****
Book by Brian Hill
Music and Lyrics by Neil Bartram
Adapted from Carlo Collodi’s classic tale
The wonderful British Theatre Academy employs the talents of over 250 young people during the summer.
This year it is Pinocchio – it has two professional actors who appear in every showing. Martin Neely as Geppetto and Lizzie Rees as Blue Fairy/Narrator are widely experienced actors with exceptional singing voices and perfect diction. Lizzie Rees is a lovely Blue Fairy – the reincarnation of Gepetto’s beloved late wife. And Martin Neely is an attractive and lithe Gepetto. The BTA are fortunate to have the talents of these professional actors who are a wonderful example to the children that make up the rest of the cast and the ensemble
On the press night Pinocchio was played by Nathaniel Purnell who shares the role with Lucas Cooper. Purnell is a bigger Pinocchio than expected but manages to play a child in his scarlet shorts and his dancing is exceptional. He gives a performance that is equalled by the charismatic James Sampson as Lampwick, the naughty boy, who is sadly missed when he turns into a donkey but happily that same fate does not apply to our hero.

The two villains Fox and Cat are portrayed by the very tall Zane Heath and the tiny Tilly Hopkins. They work well in their duets – numbers like the seductive ‘Money Grows on Trees’. The dancing puppet twins are sweetly played by Jessica Brown and Alice Bonney
There are some marvellous set pieces. The Terra di Ragazzi is a great number. ‘The Land of Boys’ is where Lampwick takes Pinocchio to get away from school and interfering grown-ups and it is rendered by the entire company dressed as boys.
This is a musical comedy of an Italian children’s book rather than a Disney version and it is remarkably unpatronizing. The songs are tuneful even if bits of them are nicked from Sondheim and Hamlisch. One wonders about the copy right on these songs, but as one has been singing them ever since the show happened It is probably more of an advantage to the masters than to the undoubtedly catchy music of Neil Bartram.
I was a little put off by the mention of Puppets, but the ones used are very stylish and they only happen at the very beginning of the show. Handled by Tabitha Knowles
This is an elegantly constructed performance and is just as fascinating to adults as to children. I have seen a couple of excellent Pinocchios recently and this was definitely the best.

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