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Review: Pinocchio at Hertford Theatre

Panto season is go-go-go and we've been to the first biggie in Hertfordshire to test it out. Is Pinocchio worth the money? Oh yes it is!

Panto seems to divide audiences – it’s like theatrical Brexit. But this new production of Pinocchio at Hertford Theatre is the best of both worlds. The story of the wooden puppet come to life isn’t a traditional story for pantomime, there’s not a dodgy celebrity in sight, an there wasn’t even ‘it’s behind you’ and barely an ‘oh yes it is’ to be had.  Bit of booing — Madam Fox was gloriously wicked — but not as much as you’d expect – but this production is a Christmas fairytale with just enough panto to bring the silliness that we all love.

From the eye-popping opening number – The Greatest Showman, anyone? – to the absolutely cracking finale, my eight-year-old was completely hooked.  The Hertford Theatre panto always has heaps of hot young talent, bucket-loads of high-energy singing and dancing, the most gorgeous sets and costumes, old-school pyrotechnics, and a proper magic that had my daughter’s eyes as wide and round as dinner plates.  When asked for her rating, she squealed ‘ten stars and amazeballs’ without missing a beat, which is pretty much the reaction you want from this sort of outing!

One thing I especially love about the Hertford panto is the total transformation of the theatre.  Stepping into the foyer this year, you’re stepping straight into the carnival atmosphere, and the set carries this through as a gorgeous circus ground – with a vintage, paper cut-out look that is absolutely stunning.

The cast is small but perfectly formed.  Cheeky chappy Charlie Cricket was brilliant with his steady patter of Cockney rhymes and an unexpectedly tender balance between ‘make ’em laugh’ and ‘make ’em cry’.  Pinocchio was suitably wooden – well, until he wasn’t.  And if you’re wondering how they handle the nose thing, well, you’ll just have to go and find out.

Gepetto was younger than you’d think, and then transformed deliciously into the wicked Stromboli.  The Blue Fairy was utterly gorgeous, and thankfully not in a predictable Disney fairy way.  And Madam Fox?  Totally foxy.

We loved how magical and real it all felt.  The story was just that little bit dark, as all good fairytales should be, as well as sweet and funny and engaging.  We loved it.  We laughed, we (nearly) cried, we sang along, we even danced a bit.  And we feel proper Christmassy now. Perfect.

Hertford Theatre, The Wash, Hertford SG14 1PS

Words: Pippa Chappell. All images courtesy of James Leask Fraser of area1photography.com

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