Tramway, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

Four stars

Life is more than a packet of chocolate cherries in Robert Alan Evans’ subtly political version of Carlo Collodi’s Italian folk tale, brought to life in Dominic Hill’s seasonal off-site Citizens Theatre production. This is a lesson the wooden boy carved out of a magic log by ageing puppet-maker Geppetto learns the hard way. With a retracting radio aerial for a nose and a cavalier notion of truth, the more obvious the lie, the more it backfires on Pinocchio.

Gary Lilburn’s Geppetto is a grassroots local businessman, whose hand-crafted puppets have been side-lined by glitzier fare care of Irene Allan’s showbiz huckster Florenzina, a cut-throat wheeler dealer happy to cash in on any novelty going. And when a baseball-capped Pinocchio cuts loose on Rachael Canning’s scarlet-draped set, a star is born. Or would be if, among the careless talk of walls keeping people out and a magic money tree in the forest designed to con innocents like Pinocchio, was actually as free as he thought he was.

Evans’ telling is a wide-open take on the story that never tries to hide its own theatrical strings. This is done in part by Canning’s set, which takes a peek both backstage and in Geppetto’s shop, and in part by composer Nikola Kodjabashia, who has the cast wig out on pianos and assorted percussion instruments inbetween cutting a rug with EJ Boyle’s dance moves. Primarily, however, it comes from Canning’s puppets, which sees Pinocchio made flesh by Liam King along with Elisa de Grey. While nothing is hidden as he’s watched over by Helen Katamba’s Cricket, there’s a truth to Pinocchio’s exchanges, even when he and Geppetto are swallowed up by a spectacular whale.

It is those on the make like Florenzina you have to watch out for, mind, with both Andy Clark’s Fox and Stephanie Payne’s Cat a predatory and near Dickensian pair of spivs. It is Pinocchio’s somewhat contrary humanity, however, that puts its faith in the possibility of freedom beyond those who would pull his strings and exploit his difference for their own ends.