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Victoria Simmonds, in what could well be a career-making role as Pinocchio, is a believable mixture of naïveté, boyish eagerness and regret, as well as genuine astonishment on finally becoming a real boy at the end. It's a huge part (and I don't mean the nose) -- she is on stage virtually all the time, but throws herself into it all with terrific energy. Giving the opera its warmly sympathetic heart are Jonathan Summers' touching Geppetto and Mary Plazas' radiantly-voiced Blue Fairy; the Blue Fairy's Act 2 duet with Pinocchio is genuinely moving. James Laing and Mark Wilde, as the Fox and the Cat, are a hugely enjoyable pair of comic villains, and Rebecca Bottone is both vocally and physically athletic in her double role as the Cricket and the Parrot.

The basic set, in Opera North's colourful, story-book staging, is a large wood-panelled interior whose walls are hung with carpenter's tools, and which has doors and windows opening on other interiors. Pinocchio's nose really does grow before our eyes; school benches are upended and turned round to become spooky forest trees; sea waves turn into the inside of the big fish that swallows Pinocchio; the Big Green Fisherman is a prodigious ten-foot high puppet (a bit scary for very young children, probably).

The Adventures of Pinocchio continues its tour to Belfast, Sadler's Wells and Newcastle, so do yourself and any kids you know a favour -- moral tales have rarely been so much fun. And it beats the Disney version hands down.

Copyright © 18 February 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK




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