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Pinocchio: No Strings Attached at Above the Stag Theatre review 

★★★★☆ by Ifan Llewelyn 

Pinocchio. The boy crafted out of wood by a lecherous old puppeteer that is brought to life, only to have parts of his body enlarge in awkward situations. It’s a classic story that’s just rife with innuendo. Taking advantage of every single one of them is this year’s side-splitting festive panto at Above The Stag Theatre which transports its audience to the quaint seaside town of Placenta for the tale of the boy who has no strings to hold him down. Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper’s Pinocchio: No Strings Attached is everything you want it to be: smutty, snarky and absolutely salacious.

The evening’s mistress of ceremony is the compelling yet kooky Caribbean fairy Fatima (Dami Olukoya), whose droll rhyming verses immediately settle you in the world of traditional panto. It’s clear from the get-go that you are to get your “boo”s, “aww”s and “He’s behind you!”s at the ready. Fatima tells us that the darling town of Placenta is in the devilish grip of greedy fox Figaro (Christopher Lane) who’s extorting the townsfolk for all their worth, but things are shaken up with the arrival of on-the-run artist Chianti (Briony Rawle), her cat Cornetta (Christy Bellis) and her panto dame aunt Geppetta (Matthew Baldwin). Queue big opening number from not-at-all-stereotypical Italian rustic locals!

Pinocchio: No Strings Attached at Above the Stag Theatre review
Jared Thompson as Pinocchio. ‘Pinocchio: No Strings Attached’ at Above The Stag Theatre. Photo by PBG Studios.

There are no major surprises with this production, but that’s not what panto’s about. It’s all about sitting back comfortably to enjoy something familiar, but just fresh enough to keep you entertained. Despite a few one-liners that toe a little too close to the line, Bradfield and Hooper’s panto is undeniably hilarious. Pitched somewhere between a Graham Norton opening monologue and your mum after a few too many sherries, these punchlines are ridiculous and hilarious. “When did you move to the town of Placenta?” “Oh, it was after birth.” You can’t help but roll your eyes and giggle. 

As our panto dame, the lustful and amoral Geppetta, Matthew Baldwin is a sensation. It’s clear that this is why Baldwin was placed on this planet. Each curl of his lip and nudge of his shoulder is simply delicious. The rapport he builds with his audience is spectacular, with some of the evening’s funniest moments coming off the cuff courtesy of his razor-sharp wit and quick thinking. Olukoya’s fairy Fatima is also something to behold, with her thick accent commanding attention whenever she hovers on stage. The twinkle in her eye lets you know that she’s most definitely up to no good. 

When the panto reaches its inevitable happy ending, with evil thwarted, peace restored and our lovers running off to live happily ever after, you can’t help but leave the theatre beaming. The perfect evening to kick-start your Christmas queer cheer into drive, Pinocchio: No Strings Attached is a joyous evening of frenzied fun that’ll have you gagging for that first taste of turkey flesh.

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