On a windy evening in Lucca, Italy, Geppetto returns to his lonely workshop, returns to his friends, puppets of his own creation. With them he can shut out the rampant fascism and hatred taking over his precious country. On this night in particular, however, he may return to his memories for the last time.
Little Eggs have a reputation for the unusual in their blend of theatre and movement to explore grand themes. In Pinocchio, a retelling or dilation of the original fairytale, Geppetto (Mathew Lee) plays with his creations, flashing between reality and memory before being forced to face that nationalistic future sitting just outside his door. His troupe of toys brought to life by Annie Stafford, Grace Stamnas, and Laura Wilson with Max Harris and Oliver Shermacher from the Clariboys are whimsical and childish but with an undercutting sinister nature.
The toys are initially trouble for Geppetto; they follow him and mock him, making a nuisance of themselves in his workshop. But like children in the playground, they swap between derision and camaraderie quickly. A lot of time was spent exploring this toing and froing between Geppetto and his toys which became a touch repetitive. Perhaps the time could have been spent on exploring their more complicated tender relationship where their history was allowed to solidify and Geppetto became the cared for instead of the creator. His toys torment him, bully him, laugh with him and at him, but when he needs it, they also encourage him, mother him, and remind him of joy.
These performers are very skilled at creating nuanced and multilayered emotions through movement and sound. A moment of particular beauty was watching Harris and Shermacher throw sound around the room, anthropomorphising the joy of their clarinets’ music as a small creature. Stafford is also so fun to watch as she takes every opportunity to get cheeky and smart.
Amongst all the games and dancing, Geppetto and his puppets are from different worlds. While Geppetto must consider reality and the political powers at work around him, his toys seem to tune into another wavelength, a rhythm underneath their free movements that keeps a steady beat. Maybe it’s a threat. A standout portion of the production involved the recreation of a boat with beautiful, rhythmic wave sounds and movements of care and longing. It doesn’t take long for this to take on a darker, dangerous meaning. Because as they continue to move, a pattern emerges, a routine of strength and endurance.
Nick Fry’s set design is very considered in the simplicity of texture and tone, a small workshop for a single man. The lighting design, also by Fry, is equally unobtrusive but balanced to shape and support the narrative movement without overpowering as a signalling device. A small time stamp on Geppetto’s wall to mark the place was a great touch. This isn’t to say Fry doesn’t know how to be dramatic: the Herculean splitting of cement and glass to reveal a blazing horizon, itself emblazoned with Italy’s national pride, was a powerful moment beautifully represented.
These final scenes of the puppets participating in Italy’s obsession with physical power in the fascist regime was an incredible ending for a production centred on a small man’s tiny workshop. Suddenly the world is much bigger than Geppetto’s room and it is too powerful to be resisted. Like his creations, Geppetto, too, has to accept his role as cog in the political machine and continue turning forward into the unknowable future.
This imagining of Pinocchio set in such a specific time and place, on the surface very distant from where the audience sits today, reawakens the story’s original investigation of the body: what it’s made out of, how it works, and what it’s capable of. Because even as we watch these demonstrations of strength, endurance, and flexibility from the performers, these are bodies occupied by minds that can have a devastating impact on the other bodies and minds around them. Geppetto is reminded of his body by his puppets and forced to take stock of his place in the collective physical power of a fascist and nationalistic political space. In 2018, these scenes and the forces behind them aren’t unfamiliar and they’re not too distant, either.
Little Eggs have produced another challenging piece of theatre with expert blends of drama, movement, and music. Everything has been considered and constructed to provoke, in an embrace of what live theatre can tangibly achieve: creating discussion, introducing ideas, and continuing to ask questions.
Pinocchio is running as part of Sydney Fringe at the Warehouse from September 26th – 29th.