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"The greatest wonder of our recent age might be the fact that we are finally able to return to live theatre and this Lyric Theatre Belfast Production of Pinocchio: The Greatest Wonder of the Age is an enchanting celebration of the transformative power of theatre.
Pinocchio is most famous as the 1940 animated film. However, this version of the story of a wooden boy who wants to be real owes as much to its Italian originator Carlo Lorenzini – known as Collodi – as it does to Walt Disney. Writer and director Paul Boyd cleverly melds memories of the movie and details from the original text to come up with his own distinctive piece of theatre.
At its heart, Pinocchio is a story that asks what it is to be a real person, and Boyd’s conceit is to dispense with the other settings in the story and present it entirely in a carnival, where, as evil circus-owner Swallowfire says ‘everything’s an illusion when the circus comes to town’.
When bearded lady Swallowfire discovers the mythical Tree of Truth, she sets her carnival next to it, hoping it will make her circus the greatest in the world. When a local carpenter, Old Joe makes a puppet from a piece of the tree, the wooden boy, Pinocchio, comes to life. His heart’s desire is to become a real boy, with the help of the Blue Fairy (Eimear Fearon), but can he withstand the temptations of circus life?
Special mention must go to Christopher Finn, who brings Pinocchio to life both as a puppet and a boy. The way that he can both manipulate the puppet while turning in a thoughtfully moving performance is impressive, particularly during his solo number All Will Be Well.
Boyd takes the darker and more outlandish elements of the traditional Pinocchio tale and rounds off their sharp edges. His Pinocchio is less naughty impulsive imp and rather more confused boy, making the central character much more endearing.
At the heart of the production are Boyd’s excellent songs, and from year to year he never disappoints. Supported by strong musical direction from Oli George Rew, highlights include the vaudeville-styled opener Days Gone By, and the empowering beat of ensemble song Hear Me Shout. It helps that all the cast are strong singers and Richard Russell Edwards operatic take as the Red Lobster literally hits the high notes during his showcase number Find That Note, despite a few unfortunate sound issues.
Pinocchio is one of the classic coming of age tales about childhood, pain and love, and the quest for authenticity. The narrative arc of learning to follow conscience over desire has a tendency to feel preachy, but here it is presented as a simple fervent story about a wooden puppet’s quest to be a real boy and to find the answer to the riddle of what it is that unites people and makes them human.
Pinocchio might be known to most of the audience as the Disney animation, but here it has been boldly reimagined with originality and charm. Pinocchio: The Greatest Wonder of the Age will undoubtedly captivate a young audience with its infectious energy, strong songs and top-notch performances." NoMoreWorkhorse.com
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Lyric Theatre, Belfast November - December 2021
"Paul Boyd doesn’t recap a Disney film when he’s writing a Christmas show. He aims higher and returns to the original story to find inspiration for his retelling of this classic tale.
So his version of Pinocchio is far from being all about a wooden boy with an elongating nose. Instead, he has created a much more nuanced musical tale that portrays coercive control, belittlement, fixed mindsets, taking back control, finding what makes you special, wrestling with the truth … and the nose that betrays untruths.
A cast of animal-inspired acts fill Collodi’s Circus. There’s a lobster, a cricket, a cat and a fox. With Collodi no longer at the helm, the circus is being run by Swallowfire, an ambitious and somewhat domineering ringmistress. “My circus, my rules” she demands. Laid up under the Tree of Truth, plans are made to reopen the big top. The parallels between the dormant circus and the local theatre scene that spent many months dark during the pandemic are obvious.
A local carpenter creates a sure-fire attraction from a fallen branch: a wooden boy. While the Blue Fairy promises him the chance to secede from the tree and become human, he must first deal with Swallowfire’s disappointment and her need for a show that packs in the punters.
The costumes created by Gillian Lennox and Erin Charteris are gorgeous, with masses of vaudeville detailing and rich textures. Stuart Marshall’s set places each performer’s caravan in an arc around the circus ring, and flies in a big top to complete the scene for Swallowfire’s shows.
Michael Mahony brings the circus caretaker Mr Keys to life as a minstrel, strumming a guitar and narrating key moments of the plot. He’s joined by Christopher Finn on the accordion. Finn also expertly manipulates the four-foot-high puppet of Pinocchio, and injects warmth and emotion into the little boy’s songs.
Boyd’s musical overture slowly settles the chittering audience before the opening number Days Gone By sets the tone for the rest of the show. While each cast member’s musicality is established quickly, the two strongest voices come from Richard Russell Edwards who dons his fishnet tights and reaches impressive operatic high notes as the Italian Red Lobster (complete with a great gag about altos) while Lyric Theatre Drama Studio alumna Eimear Fearon creates some of the show’s most magical moments with her beautiful voice behind two rather fun characters, the Talking Cricket and the Blue Fairy.
It's a high-quality production, there’s plenty to entertain, and while the story is a tad unfamiliar, we should never underestimate the comprehension of children and their ability to tune in to the on stage emotion and enjoy the spectacle." Alan In Belfast
"Making its lockdown-delayed appearance at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, Pinocchio The Greatest Wonder of the Age sees Paul Boyd bring his signature flair for colour, fantasy, fun and lyrically muscular music to Carlo Collodi’s timeless fable of the wooden puppet that becomes a boy.
Following his pre-pandemic Peter Pan and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Boyd’s re-fashioning of childhood classics have quickly become a Christmas staple on the Lyric’s main stage. With its focus on family and belonging in a time of crisis, Pinocchio may well be his most sophisticated retelling yet of a familiar story, and his most direct.
Typically, there’s a touch of chaos, too, in Boyd’s anarchic, sideways view of Collodi’s much-adapted fairy-tale. Treated to innumerable interpretations since it was first published in 1881, few have lit upon the notion of the travelling circus the wooden boy-manqué finds himself embroiled with so pertinently; a telling cipher for current, socially-distanced travails.
The star of the show is Pinocchio himself - Paul Currie’s sympathetic and engaging puppet lent becomingly eloquent, often moving life by his flesh-and-bone avatar, Christopher Finn.
There’s atmosphere aplenty courtesy of Stuart Marshall’s set, an array of faded carnival caravans marshalled around the denuded grandeur of the ‘Tree of Truth’, the vaudevillian-laced colour of Gillian Lennox and Erin Charteris’s imaginative costumes and Mary Tumelty’s gorgeously warm, colour-saturated lighting.
Boyd’s part-prerecorded score is effectively embellished by the cast doubling as on-stage musicians, the result a laughter-inducing, tear-tempting family Christmas treat." British Theatre Guide
"Welcome, welcome, welcome to Collodi’s, possibly the most dysfunctional circus this side of Hades. Over the next hour and three quarters we enter the realm of the Red Lobster, Mr Fox, a Talking Cricket, Mr Keys, Lady Cat, Swallowfire and probably the most famous puppet in the world, Pinocchio.
There's little nuances that’ll be lost on children but will resonate with adults. But kids will love this too. With Covid restrictions still in place, the Lyric’s mainstage isn't quite full, not that you would know it by the reaction of the crowd as the curtain falls.
Puppeteer Paul Currie’s creation is equally macabre and endearing. Think Tim Burton on a happyish day and you’re on the money. The tale, however is far removed from my childhood memories. Geppetto is now Joe, Jiminy Cricket is now the Talking Cricket and things are really turned on its head.
The Blue Fairy is still the magic behind the script, plus there’s the Tree of Truth, from which Pinocchio is carved, and withers when our little boy gets led astray. Basically, forget the Disney flick and arrive at this with fresh eyes and ears.
Speaking of ears, there’s an orchestra somewhere, I haven’t a notion where the Lyric puts them but musical director Oli Rew knows what’s what. Add to that, some of the actors are also accomplished musicians in their own right., making this show all the more enjoyable. There’s nothing like seeing a cricket playing a violin to warm the heart.
Christopher Finn’s Pinocchio is tremendous, not only acting but almost two hours of walking about with a puppet connected to his feet must be a strain. Christina Nelson’s Lady Cat, Richard Russel Edward’s Red Lobster – gender is not a restriction here – Eimear Fearon’s Talking Cricket and Michael Mahoney’s Mr Keys are all essential to the plot.
After the interval things really get hot. The plot thickens and we all know the outcome. If there is a moral to this Christmas tale it’s the the power of the individual; all characters realise or see the demise of their nature due to their deeds. It’s Christmas, good overcomes evil and we all leave the Lyric with a spring to our step." Culture Crush NI
★★★★ "At the Lyric, the musical-theatre maestro Paul Boyd is back in the driving seat with a glossy new take on an evergreen tale.
Boyd can always be relied on to take a tangential approach to a story we think we know so well. It’s no surprise that his musical Pinocchio, postponed from Christmas 2020, is influenced more by the darker elements of Carlo Collodi’s original folk tale than by the cute little imp of Disney’s famous 1940 animation. Indeed, the famous nose, which lengthens with every fib, barely registers in this musical allegory for human transformation and the importance of family.
The setting is a shabby travelling circus, which has been locked to the public for years and is about to reopen under the malign management of the bearded Swallowfire (Allison Harding), self-anointed queen of the sideshows. In a small wooden boy, hewn from a branch of the dying tree of truth, she spots a lifeline. She will groom him to be the greatest wonder of the age.
Paul Currie’s marionette, gently manipulated by sad-faced Christopher Finn, comes alive to the song of the Blue Fairy (Eimear Fearon). Swallowfire plots to possess him, as she does the rest of her downtrodden troupe, stopping at nothing to halt his heart’s desire to find his “father”, the old woodcarver who made him.
When the confused child briefly lies to himself, causing his nose to grow a few alarming inches, his new-found friends and foes rise up in mutiny, guiding him towards the human identity and sense of belonging he so desperately seeks.
The beautifully packaged storyline unfolds through a combination of live instrumentals and irresistible songs, performed by a cast of seven actor-musician-singers. But beneath the glossy packaging, attention is drawn to a multitude of young people journeying alone through hostile environments in search of family and safety." Irish Times
★★★★ "Easy on the eye and the ear, Paul Boyd’s radical take on a familiar tale offers up a colourful fable for our troubled times.
A cheeky little marionette, brought to life by an old woodcarver, is one of the most beloved and enduring characters in popular culture. The tale of Pinocchio has been reimagined countless times on stage, screen and children’s literature, most memorably in the 1940 Disney animation, whose cute central characterisation was considerably softer than that originally envisaged by its creator, Carlo Collodi.
In his newly contextualised musical, commissioned by the Lyric for Christmas 2020, writer/director/composer Paul Boyd drives a coach and horses through tradition and veers towards Collodi’s cautionary tale. The result is a rollicking, atmospheric slice of musical folklore for our troubled times.
With uncanny foresight but no knowledge of the circumstances that would lie ahead, Boyd took the radical decision to set his story inside a third-rate travelling circus, whose doors have long been closed to the public. Ruled with an iron hand by the malign Swallowfire (Allison Harding), the bearded queen of the sideshows, a pathetic troupe of exploited performers yearn to break free of their cartoonish alter egos and rediscover their true selves.
A lofty fretwork Tree of Truth towers above Stuart Marshall’s sepia-toned set, whose dingy backstage doors and shabby cubicles indicate years of neglect. The Tree, whose own days are numbered, unexpectedly gifts Swallowfire a route to circus domination. She orders Old Joe the carpenter to carve a boy from one of its fallen branches. When the bewitching song of the Blue Fairy (Eimear Fearon) breathes life into the wooden boy, she envisages him as the greatest wonder of the age, thereby incurring the jealousy of acrobat Lady Cat (Christina Nelson) and conjuror Mr Fox (Richard Clements), who plot a way to be rid of him.
Pinocchio’s heart's desire is to reunite with his ‘father’ Old Joe, whose mantra ‘all will be well’ is reliant on the notion of a united family. To do so, Pinocchio must become human and remain steadfast. But, beguiled by Swallowfire’s empty promises, he fleetingly loses focus and ends up lying to himself. The result is the alarming lengthening of his nose, a cursory nod by Boyd to Collodi’s familiar tale.
Sweet of voice and sad of face, Christopher Finn takes charge of Paul Currie’s shy, diffident marionette, lending genuine pathos to the spectre of a lone child struggling to find his family in a strange, forbidding environment. But he is not alone. Put-upon stagehand Matchstick (Michael Mahony), flamboyant diva Red Lobster (Richard Russell-Edwards) and chirpy Talking Cricket (Fearon) close ranks around him in a spirit of friendship and family.
The storyline is pleasingly framed by a delicately tinted design palette and an appealing combination of song and instrumental music, played live by the versatile cast." The Stage
"We know the story of Pinocchio, or we think we do. Having attended a rip-roaring production of the fable at the Lyric Theatre, adapted by Paul Boyd from Collodi’s 1883 original, you realise the narrative has legs.
Cleverly located away from the little Tuscan village to the circus world, itself all about transformation, our puppet joins a group of performers in uber-theatrical disguise. If the beginning was slightly action-lite, it majored in Boyd’s fantastic music. The rock intro and pop lyrics sung by our troubadour introduced us to the Tree of Truth and the legend of its wish granting properties.
Pinocchio here morphed from time-less to timely and Richard Russell Edwards shone as the singing Red Lobster and Eimear Fearon as the Talking Cricket.
We returned to the original tale about the old man who wants a son and whose carved creation manages to come to life. The scene was affecting and Christopher Finn's Pinocchio defined poignant.
The script veered away from the original towards the end and we saw our circus folk reinventing themselves by defying wicked owner Swallowfire (impressive Allison Harding). There were twists, turns, a good scene when Pinocchio's fibs threaten his dream. with well extended nose, plus the beautiful Blue Fairy (Ms Fearon again) whose big second-half number was definitely from the emotional school of Walt Disney.
Happy endings jostled for position. Everybody warmed to the energetic finale which scored with high emotion and pizazz delivered via the climactic show stopper Hear Me Shout with its rousing lyrics about finding your voice so you can be heard. They did, and were." Irish News
Pinocchio The Greatest Wonder of the Age is a full stage musical production written for audiences of all ages performed by a cast of seven actors, singers, dancers, puppeteers, and musicians.
When evil circus-owner Swallowfire realises that she has finally discovered the location of the mythical Tree of Truth she sets up her carnival sideshow next to it. The Tree is said to grant a heart’s desire, and Swallowfire has plans to use its magic so that her circus becomes the greatest in the world.
One day Swallowfire finds a piece of the tree and asks a local carpenter to carve a new attraction from it - a wooden boy. That night the fairy that lives in the Tree brings Pinocchio to life …
As part of the Tree of Truth Pinocchio must stay close by, and he must always be honest; but Pinocchio knows that his heart’s desire is to escape from the circus and find his father, the carpenter that created him. For that to happen, the fairy explains, Pinocchio must become a real boy.
Paul Boyd’s all-new musical re-imagining of Carlo Collodi’s classic tale is the magical story of a real live wooden boy on an incredible journey to find his true family. Featuring a spectacular circus company of sensational musicians and unforgettable characters, including the amazing conjuror Mr. Fox, the world-famous acrobat Lady Cat, and prima donna opera star the Red Lobster.
Will his friends Matchstick and the Talking Cricket be able to help Pinocchio escape Swallowfire’s clutches, or will his nose lead him into trouble?
Roll up! Roll up! and attend the world’s greatest circus, where Swallowfire promises you’ll have a whale of a time, and where one little wooden boy believes that anything is possible.
Trailer for Pinocchio The Greatest Wonder of the Age - The Demos Album
"A rip-roaring production scored with
high emotion and pizzaz"
★★★★ "beautifully packaged ... irresistible songs"
All-Star Cast Album "The Demos" available to download from all major online stores!
Teaser Trailer produced by the Lyric Theatre Belfast, 2021
2021 - Lyric Theatre, Belfast
photos by Carrie Davenport
Pinocchio The Greatest Wonder of the Age, Paul Boyd's 25th original stage musical, evolved from discussions at the Lyric Theatre Belfast at the end of 2019. The Lyric's production of Paul's musical Peter Pan was at the time playing to packed houses, and the 2018 revival of Alice The Musical was still fresh in everyone’s memory.
The new musical was commissioned at the end of 2019 and was scheduled for production at Christmas 2020; but world events put paid to that plan, and like theatrical productions all around the world, the show was postponed.
Throughout 2020, alongside the producers at the Lyric Theatre, Paul continued to develop ideas for the show and came up with various plans in case, somehow, Pinocchio The Greatest Wonder of the Age could be brought to the stage.
In the meantime Paul assembled a vocal cast of TV names, West End stars, and musical theatre performers to record a selection of songs from the show to be released as a charity album. Pinocchio The Greatest Wonder of the Age - The Demos features songs from the show performed by West End stars Sabrina Aloueche (We Will Rock You), Jodie Jacobs (Rock of Ages), Mark Dugdale (Come From Away), and Alan Richardson (Chicago). Also featured on the album are TV legend Su Pollard (Hi-de-Hi!), Marvel's Hawkeye star Fra Fee, and musical theatre performers Michael Mahony (Once), Allison Harding (Sister Act), Jamie Steen (The Good Old Days), and Christopher Finn (All Male Iolanthe). Pinocchio The Greatest Wonder of the Age - The Demos is available from iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, and all major digital platforms, sold in aid of Actors' Children's Trust.
Thanks to the resilience and tenacity of all of those at the Lyric, the little wooden boy, the Greatest Wonder of the Age finally made his appearance a year later than planned and just in time for Christmas 2021 in a critically acclaimed production that opened on 26th November. It was named by The Guardian newspaper as "One of the 25 Best Shows To Book For Christmas".