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By Tiffany Markman, copywriter, editor & mom to a gorgeous chatterbox. She also co-owns Sing at my Party, which sends professional singers – dressed as Disney princesses – to sing at Joburg birthday parties. 

First: a disclaimer. I’m traditionally not a fan of panto; a genre with little to offer me. In fact, Pinocchio, staged at the Joburg Theatre as the latest in Janice Honeyman’s annual festive season offering, was my first pantomime experience in perhaps two decades. So I wasn’t expecting much and I was pleasantly surprised. More importantly perhaps, my 6-year-old absolutely adored the first 90 minutes or so.

What it’s about

The 1883 children’s story The Adventures of Pinocchio tells the tale of Geppetto, an Italian carpenter who longs for a son. He carves a marionette, Pinocchio, out of wood. (Something you may have wondered about: The piece of wood from which Pinocchio’s derived is animated, which is why the puppet can move independently.)

Although he longs to become a real boy, Pinocchio is easily manipulated by bad company and prone to lying. And as he lies, his nose grows and grows. But until he proves that he is ‘good’, Pinocchio cannot redeem himself and take human form.

What to expect

This show is visually dazzling. Over-the-top. Bright, boisterous, funny and fashionable. The scenery, set, and stage design are exquisite. Look out, in particular, for the underwater scene featuring (what I think is a subtle version of) the Kraken, the deliciously pin-striped Candyland, and an amazing life-sized choo-choo train.

The highlights

Kanyi Nokwe as Pinocchio is delightful in her acting, her singing and, believe it or not, her wobbly puppet’s gait. Another highlight is Ilse Klink as the Blue Fairy, as is Tobie Cronje as Geppetto – although, in both cases, their accents are jarring. Hers is determinedly American. His is half-gently-Italian, half-staunchly-Afrikaans. Odd.

Adults, look out for interesting bits and pieces to make you laugh; among them:

  • a host of catchy contemporary tunes
  • Brenda Fassie’s ‘Weekend Special’
  • ‘Papa, Can You Hear Me?’ from Yentl
  • allusions to Phantom of the Opera
  • loads and loads of Gupta jokes
  • one-liners about the EFF, Mugabe, and junk status
  • tawdry humour about toy boys in the woods
  • tawdry humour in general
  • former Gladiator Granite (AKA actor Garth Collins) playing multiple roles
  • the hilarious number about ‘Die Donkie’

The down-sides

It’s all a bit confusing and incoherent, plot-wise, and there’s enough Disney in it to render the classic almost unrecognisable. There’s also insufficient attention to Pinocchio’s nose, so a good chunk of the moral of this age-old tale is lost to the kids.

In addition, the show is entirely too long, at over 120 minutes, for littler children. Mine was exhausted, a bit over-stimulated, and ready to leave just after the interval.

Bottom line: If you’re a panto regular, the 2017 version of Pinocchio isn’t Joburg’s best ever. But if your kiddies – say, aged 7+ (and well-rested on the day) – love the spectacle, laughter, and vibrance of live children’s theatre, do it.

The show details

Pinocchio runs at the Joburg Theatre until 30 December 2017. Buy tickets on www.joburgtheatre.com or call 0861 670 670 to book.

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