The Adventures of Pinocchio at Leeds Grand Theatre

YOU might expect Peter Restall to be pulling what's left of his hair out by this stage in the festive season.

Opera North's technical manager has responsibility for making sure that their Christmas offering, The Adventures of Pinnochio, all comes together on the night.

It's a tall order for any opera but this one – which includes giants, killer fish and flying fairies – is a logistical nightmare.

"It's also very exciting though," he insists. "All the back stage team love their job and it's really exhilarating to be doing something as frenetic as this.

"In a regular opera there might be something like four or five scene changes – in Madame Butterfly there's essentially just a few. But in Pinocchio there's somewhere between 22 to 26.

"Which might sound a little excessive, but the story is so complicated because he has one adventure, then another and another. So there has to be numerous scene changes to relay that on stage."

Opera North have pulled out every stop on this show, which was initially commissioned for their 2007 season but proved such a smash they brought it back.

The trick is to create something which is as unconventionally operatic as you'd expect from Leeds-based ON while being able to compete with other blockbuster stage productions.

"This is very much in the mould of a pantomime or a busy musical theatre piece," Restall assures us. "Which is quite unusual for Opera North.

"It's also very much an opera for all the family and has that immediate magical element, which means whatever you do with it it's always going to lend itself towards being a Christmas show."

Opera North have gone to great lengths to make The Adventures of Pinocchio – already a classic children's story – as accessible as possible.

Unlike many operas the songs are sung very clearly and in English, which is largely due to the fact that it was originally composed in English, rather than being an awkward-sounding translation.

And the production competes with the big pantos of this world by delivering some pretty incredible stage effects.

For example, in one scene our wooden anti-hero finds himself flung into the sea, whereupon large traps in the stage open and vast expanses of fabric appear simulating the waves before switching to recreate the rib cage of a giant fish.

"In another scene Pinocchio meets a green giant which tries to eat him," says Restall. "The giant must be about 12ft high and operated by three people.

"One of them is inside the main body, another operates the right arm which scoops Pinocchio up, While a third operates his other arm while singing.

"The effects are actually quite old-school, quite Victorian, but they work. We wanted to have some of the look of old, even if the technology behind it is quite elaborate.

"In a CGI age I think everyone, particularly kids, is used to getting imagery delivered to them as it is, but they actually quite like to see how the magic of something works."

Restall's job is to ensure that everything does work. Once the creative teams and artists have developed the many props, costumes and sets it's down to him to ensure every cog turns in time.

That ranges from the bigger picture right down to the central character's nose which, yes, does actually grow before your eyes – but how they do it will remain a secret.

Also a surprise will be some the elements of the original tale which Opera North took for their inspiration.

Rather than simply rehash the Disney movie's interpretation they looked at Le Avventure di Pinocchio, the original novel by Italian author Carlo Collodi.

Published in 1883, it tells the familiar story of a marionette magically brought to life. But the little wooden boy, who longs to become human, is mischievous and, as everyone knows, has a extending appendage in the middle of his face which makes it obvious when he's not telling the truth.

But the original version also contained many more unsettling elements which, be warned, won't be ignored in Opera North's version.

Dec 17 to 30, Leeds Grand Theatre, New Briggate, Leeds, 7pm, mats Wed and Thu 2pm, Fri 11am. Tel: 0844 8482706.


In the original version penned by Collodi our hero is hanged as a result of his naughty behaviour. Only later did the author's editor request this ending be changed for something more suitable for young readers.

Collodi initially didn't intended the novel to be a 'children's book' since it was essentially a critique of the social structure and politics of his native Italy in the 19th century.

Pinocchio, in the Tuscany region where the story is set, is literally translated as 'pine nut' or 'pine eye' – a reference to the fact that the marionette was carved out of pine.

The Stanley Kubrick/Steven Spielberg movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence of 2001 was also inspired by the themes of Pinocchio. The film featured an android with emotions who longs to be a real boy.

In 1957 a musical version of the story was broadcast on NBC starring Mickey Rooney in the title role. It was created at a time when musical versions of classic children's tales were particularly popular in the States.

Several different interpretations followed Collodi's original work ranging from a 1911 book Pinocchio in Africa up to an adult movie called The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio.

Japanese manga artist Osamu Tezuka was inspired by the little wooden boy when he created his famous animation Astro Boy.

The most famous animated movie version of 1940 originally contained numerous direct plot elements taken from the Carlodi novel but Walt Disney ordered many to be altered or removed completely.

Jiminy Cricket eventually became one of the central characters although in the original draught for the movie he didn't exist. But, again, Walt personally insisted this character be retained and drastically expanded.

The cartoon came to be viewed as one of the best animated films of all time but on initial release it was a flop and Disney only managed to recoup the company's $2.3m budget – though this was admittedly hampered by the outbreak of the Second World War.

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