Theatre review: Tromluí Phinocchio/Pinocchio – A Nightmare

Neasa O’Callaghan
Staff Writer

Moonfish Theatre Company’s Tromluí Phinocchio/Pinocchio – A Nightmare is an enchanting, though dark, take on the original Italian fairytale of the famous marionette. Pinocchio, who is very much the disruptive teenager, is brought to life by the actress Grace Kiely and by accomplished on-stage effects from Máiread Ní Chróinín.

The audience travels with Pinocchio though menacing scenes and forests and into the ocean itself as Moonfish transforms the already-atmospheric Smock Alley theatre into a repository of new wonders through puppetry and music. Quickly shifting between characters on stage, the ensemble cast dons varying costumes before our eyes in a style that mimics a veritable pop-up puppet theatre.

The menacing puppet maestro who controls his dancers demonically tries to impress the audience by burning his performers, only for them to be soothed by Pinocchio’s storytelling. Although uplifted by his triumph in saving the other puppets, Pinocchio’s sudden wealth and augmented pride lead him into a whole lot of mischief.

Though the play seemed a little slow at first, this did not detract from the work as a whole and the action soon erupted from the confines of the stage. Performers engaged directly with the audience throughout, drawing us into the milieu of the play: a lonely Geppetto hands out “missing” signs for his lost son; a 1920s-styled blackbird dances while a fox chats up an unsuspecting audience member; signs reading “applause” and “aww” are held up by the cast; Pinocchio even searches for his father in the belly of the whale by meandering through the main auditorium. The performers cleverly use animated facial expressions and a bilingual system of questions and answers to seamlessly shift between Irish and English, aiding comprehension for the audience.

Zita Monahan’s comical portrayal of an RTÉ-esque talk show was particularly striking. Her soft-spokenness, coupled with her somewhat ruthless desire for Pinocchio to respond emotionally concerting his metamorphosed friend, turns her penchant for personal and tragic stories into an allegory that certainly resonates with our contemporary society. Interjections of performance and interviews like these map out Pinocchio’s own psychological development, all the while rising to a heart-rending conclusion.

This haunting puppet tale is woven and performed with subtlety, expertise and panache, delivering an utterly delightful theatre experience for young and old alike.