The Citizens Theatre Company, temporarily relocated to Glasgow’s Tramway venue, continues its tradition of stylish Christmas storytelling with Carlo Collodi’s much loved tale of Pinocchio. By Mark Brown

Anyone who knows the history of Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre knows that the company is as well known for its classy family theatre at Christmas time as it is for its productions of classics by the likes of Shakespeare, Brecht and Pinter. As it did last year, the company is spending this Christmas at Glasgow’s Tramway venue, which is the Citz’s temporary home while its grand playhouse in the Gorbals undergoes a massive redevelopment.

It is at Tramway that I meet outstanding actors Irene Allan and Andy Clark, two of the stars of this year’s Citizens Christmas show Pinocchio. Talking to me in the midst of the rehearsal process, they are both very enthusiastic about this new version of Carlo Collodi’s famous story of the intrepid, less-than-truthful little puppet who very much wants to be a boy.

The script for the show has been created by the writing and adapting duo of Robert Alan Evans and Lu Kemp. Directed by the Citz’s acclaimed artistic director Dominic Hill and designed by Rachael Canning (who also designed last year’s beautiful Citizens Yuletide show A Christmas Carol), it promises to be another memorable production.

As so often with Hill’s work, Pinocchio will be played as a dynamic, ensemble piece, with actors flitting between various characters. Allan will play Florenzini (a baddie inspired by the character of Lorenzini in Steve Barron’s 1996 film) and, this being Tuscany, a pasta maker.

For his part (or, more accurately, parts), Clark will perform the role of the treacherous Fox, and also turn his hand to such characters as a disreputable judge and a teacher. He will also, he says, be “running around hitting cymbals”; a reference to the live music that is typical of Hill’s successful collaborations with Macedonian stage composer Nikola Kodjabashia.

Although he loves performing on the Citizens stage, Clark thinks Tramway’s T1 space is an excellent, if very different, replacement. “Your preconception about the Tramway is that it’s a big, cavernous space”, he comments.

However, he says, performing in last year’s Christmas show, he found the auditorium more intimate than he expected. “I thought A Christmas Carol worked really well, which was down, in large part, to the design.

“This year it’s designed as if it’s an old Victorian theatre, with the bare, brick walls. I like it as a space. I really enjoyed being here last year.”

Allan has never performed in T1 before (although, as a student, she did play in Tramway’s T4 studio space in Communicado Theatre Company’s brilliant mid-1990s staging of Athol Fugard’s A Place With the Pigs). She’s looking forward to it, not least because, like Clark, she is hugely impressed by Canning’s designs.

“The set is phenomenal. Rachael’s designs are extraordinary”, she says.

“The costumes are like pieces of sculpture. They could have an exhibition all to themselves, they’re beautiful.”

If her set and costume designs have impressed the actors, Canning’s work on the titular puppet is excellent. I was allowed a sneak peak at the Citz’s Pinocchio and I can confirm that it is a thing of beauty.

Small, friendly and looking very much as if it has just been hewn by dear old Gepetto that very morning, the puppet is a very different creature indeed from the Technicolor Disney image. So good is the puppet’s design, and so responsive is it to manipulation, that Allan says she’s already starting to think of it as human.

Which is crucial, because audience members, and children in particular, are going to have to develop a bond with the puppet. Allan is emphatic about the importance of drawing young audience members into the story.

“This is the time when you grab the next generation of theatregoers”, she says. “You can really introduce a new world to those little, new minds.

“I love the magic of this kind of storytelling, I really do. I think it’s beautiful.

“There’s proper magic in these shows that you can’t really get away with at other times of the year. They are lavish, and they should be.”

Clark agrees that Hill is particularly skilled at creating beautiful and atmospheric Christmas productions. “Dominic’s putting as much work into this as he put into a flagship show like Cyrano [Hill’s acclaimed staging of Edwin Morgan’s Scots version of Edmond Rostand’s magnum opus Cyrano de Bergerac].

“I was watching him yesterday, when they were rehearsing the bit when the kids are all misbehaving. It was like he was living out all the things he wanted to do himself when he was a child. He was totally immersed in it.”

The actors are confident that Hill’s production has captured the diverse elements in Collodi’s story. “I think there’s a brilliant balance of fun and darkness”, says Clark.

“Dominic wants it to be really scary and really silly. I think we’ve achieved that.”

Pinocchio is at Tramway, Glasgow, December 7 to January 4: