Review: The Adventures of Pinocchio

At Leeds Grand Theatre

IT'S a big ask expecting youngsters to have their attention held by anything for more than three minutes, but an opera lasting almost three hours?

Opera North's Christmas offering is intended to be family-friendly, but at a length at something closer to a Verdi or Puccini epic, this would test the cohesion of the strongest of families.

Which is a pity because The Adventures of Pinocchio is a wonderful festive spectacle which should be the perfect kids' alternative to the traditional panto.

The core of this production really is spectacular. As a novice to the world of our long-nosed friend, I was amazed by the many dimensions of the original story.

Collodi's tale of light and shade is joyous, yet tinged with sinister elements which means it is always intriguing, if not always the most comfortable of viewing.

In one section our little wooden boy is lured with friends to Funland, which initially promises to be an adventure playground for him and his school chums. In fact they are all transformed into enslaved donkeys by black magic.

And when Pinocchio fails to perform at the circus he's sold onto, he's then sold for his skin and eventually eaten alive by a giant fish. Also look out for the section where he's hanged by his neck – you don't get that kind of imagery at your average panto.

But then that's what Opera North's production is all about: offering something which is no way pedestrian.

There are some sections where it indulges itself a little too much in operatic elongation, where there could be more action and, ironically, a little less singing. But all that could be made better simply by some simple streamlining.

But what more than compensates is the great score and the staging, which is technically brilliant while managing to capture some of the look of the old Victorian music halls.

And the performances are beyond criticism. Victoria Simmonds is wonderful as the central character and Rebecca Bottone as the grasshopper is sublime. So too is Jonathan Summers as his father/creator Gepetto and James Laing as both the fox and Funland coach driver.

So never mind the length, feel the quality.

Today at 2pm, Wed at 7pm and Thu at 2pm, Leeds Grand Theatre, New Briggate, Leeds, 12.50 to 45, Tel.0844 8482706

PARTNERSHIP: Rob Cowling and Paddy Sturman of Irwin Mitchell with Robin Hawkes of West Yorkshire Playhouse. Photo: Anthony Robling.

Five-year sponsorship deal for Leeds’s £14m West Yorksire Playhouse redevelopment