Patrick O'Byrne reviews 'Pinnochio - A Nightmare' by Moonfish Theatre, Nun's Island Theatre, Galway on March 12th 2012.


12.03.12 Review of'Pinnochio - A Nightmare' by Moonfish Theatre, Nun's Island Theatre, Galway - Patrick O’ Byrne


The little theatre at Nun’s Island, Galway came to life on Monday night with Moonfish Theatre’s very clever take on the popular children’s story which they entitled Pinnochio – A Nightmare. As the title and age restriction suggest, this was a dark take on the story.

Pinnochio follows Joseph Campbell’s archetypal hero’s journey. Having rejected the father and killed the other adult in the form of Jiminy Cricket in the ordinary world – boy kills father – the reckless go-it-alone youth heads out into an unusual world (a“call to adventure”). He seeks adventure with puppets his age that he has set free of the ties that hold them, but they are afraid of the strange world beyond that which they know. He meets many challenges along the way from various characters (a “road of trials”) – boy versus man - but receives guidance from a mentor in the form of the ghost of Ionia Ní Chrόinín’s Jiminy Cricket and help from Zita Monahan’s Blue Fairy. He experiences a sexual awakening at the disco and having gained all this new self knowledge (the “goal” or boon) he decides to return with this boon (the “return to the ordinary world”). He faces more trials on his return - man versus nature at sea – and uses the boon to improve the world (the application of the boon) by rescuing his father. The father becomes the son, and the son becomes the father. This symbolises the death of the boy and his initiation into manhood. Finally he becomes his own man in leaving the father to say goodbye to a friend, Buaicisin.

Despite only remembering that Pinnochio has a ‘lying nose’ and the performance was to be sprinkled with the cupla focal for Seachtain na Gaeilge I sat back and allowed the story to unfold before me on the tiny floor-stage. This was minimalist theatre carved very cleverly from, it seemed, whatever happened to be lying around backstage. Aluminium ladders were transformed from a donkey-drawn carriage to the curtained entrance to ‘The Land of Fun’ to a life buoy Geppetto gets shipwrecked on at sea. Matt Burke’s clever use of lighting greatly enhanced the other-worldly theme in the story. A back-lit white sheet was used to great effect to highlight Pinnochio’s unnatural ‘birth’ and ‘lying appendage’ scenes, and to project text onto to help the story along. Cue cards were also held up to announce new stages in the story. Vaudeville floor lighting, costuming and red club-entrance curtains were mixed with modern day hoodies, disco music and a television interview, yet they somehow all worked very well together to give the tale a modern feel while holding onto its fantastical other-worldly time and place.

A huge part of this inventive piece of theatre was the accompanying soundscape created by the cast – predominately by the director/actor/foley artist extraordinaire Máiréad Ní Chrόinín.  Sounds from crumpled plastic and paper, a wood wind instrument, a harp and a hammer, amongst other things, were recorded and mixed live at the side of the stage as the action unfolded. This was fascinating to watch – a show in itself - and reflected the youthful playfulness of the innocent Pinnochio at the tale’s beginning. One of the highlights of the show was the use of a simple sheet of see through plastic to create the sea. When Pinnochio and Geppetto finally get washed ashore the simple manipulation of the sheet to create the sound of waves lapping on the shore was totally convincing.

The small cast, using simple costume and voice changes efficiently and convincingly transformed Ionia Ní Chrόinín from the seductive Cat into Buaicisin, Morgan Cooke from the humble Geppetto into the manipulative vaudeville Fox and Zita Monahan from the Blackbird into the Blue Fairy. Ionia Ní Chrόinín’s migrations to a microphone stand at the sound desk to voice Jiminy cricket whilst portraying his presence on the darkened stage using a reading light on the end of a blacked out flexible rod was very effective.

On first entering the theatre, my original impression of what I saw as regards props was “This is too ‘real’ for a fairytale”. Very quickly I was overcome with the playful inventiveness of all aspects of this mature and haunting realisation of a childhood classic. When the house lights came up at the end a growth spurt of my own ‘lying nose’ would have been justified for holding back on delivering the standing ovation I felt this vaudeville troupe deserved.