Edinburgh Festival: Pants on Fire’s Pinocchio (4 stars)

Think Pinocchio is a charming tale of a loveable wooden boy? Then you probably haven’t read the original novel for a while and you certainly haven’t seen this new version from Pants on Fire which manages, if anything, to be even darker, with its mash-up of 1950s B-movie film kitsch, a cold angular set and characters that are more creepy than cute.

Pinocchio is a sinister and not particularly likeable figure who owes more to horror films than the famous Disney cartoon. Jiminy Cricket is a giant grotesque insect-like monster bursting from a 3D sci-fi film, and pretty much everything is cold and noir-esque, apart from the red of blood. And there is definitely blood.

Pants on Fire clearly love their film references, the piece is full of them. It takes you on a journey through different genres – horror, sci-fi, melodrama – and then shifts from black and white into glorious Technicolor like a more sinister version of The Wizard of Oz.

The Fairy with the Turquoise Hair is a Marilyn Monroe-style Hollywood film star; Geppetto and his interfering neighbour occupy the world of an old-school TV sitcom and every now and then there is a break for a cheesy advert pushing whatever product has just popped up in the plot.

It is the same Victorian morality tale about temptation versus self-improvement but with numerous visual twists and the kind of varied mega-mix of live music that the company thrilled audiences with in their 2010 hit Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Only this time the sound is more offbeat, futuristic and, at times, quite unsettling. A fusion of synthesisers with modern-day dubstep contrasts technology with nostalgia for bygone eras in a delightfully lo-fi set.

While this Pinocchio can be difficult to care about initially, as he travels on his journey past sinister hobo street cats lurking on corners, and through a particularly imaginative puppet show within a puppet show, he slowly becomes more sympathetic – not least because of the, at times, horrific way he is treated. Googly-eyed children turned into donkeys give way to a sad and haunting ending whereby Pinocchio and his new-found family can only be reunited through death.

Written for The Scotsman

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