Christmas has felt like it’s been a long time coming this year, but with the start of panto season, the countdown has officially begun. It was with this that I sat down for the Charles Court Opera’s 10th Anniversary production of Pinocchio, a story that doesn’t immediately shout ‘panto’ (Oh yes it does!).

Panto itself breaks all the rules in theatre, with often no rhyme or reason using the familiar characters to take us to strange new places. And that’s exactly what Pinocchio does. Sent by his mother to post some letters, an overtly preppy Pinocchio (Joshua Da Costa) accidentally falls in the pond and ends up at the bottom of the sea where he decides to go adventuring.

On his travels he meets a trio of strange characters – from a Dog-fish to a singing snail (Francesca Fenech) to a fox (Matthew Kellett). El Tobasco (John Savournin) – a chilli fiend of the likes you’ve never seen before – is the villain of the piece and the standout of the cast. He gets panto, plays up to its nuances and has fun with it. Oh, and you can’t forget Jiminy (Matthew RJ Ward); though he’s not the moralistic cricket you may remember, he does make a great Oprah.

Even though it has a runtime of 90 minutes, the production flew by with as much slapstick, punning and digs at the political state of the world as they could stuff a Christmas turkey with. I’ve also never seen ‘Spice Up Your Life’ sung so literally before – it was the highlight of the show for me…which was a tall order considering there was a Britney number too.

Panto works best when the crowd gets involved, and here the crowd lapped it up, playing up to the cries of ‘boys and girls’ gleefully joining in on the sing-a-long. Yes the jokes are predictable, yes it doesn’t make sense, and no Pinocchio never posts the letters, but that’s the way panto works. Whilst it’s not the strongest pantomime I’ve seen from Charles Court, it’s a fun way to spend an evening where you can let go and have a laugh.

★★★

Pinocchio is on at the King’s Head Theatre until 7 January 2017. 

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