Chichester's Pinocchio - a remarkable, beautiful, important achievement

Pinocchio, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, until January 2 2021.

Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 10:05 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 10:06 pm
Pinocchio - photo by Manuel Harlan
Pinocchio - photo by Manuel Harlan

With all the skills and confidence they gain, members of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre move on to a huge range of fantastic careers.

But whatever achievements lie ahead for the current company, they will always look back on Pinocchio 2020 as one of the greatest and most significant nights of their lives.

There’s a moment where two key characters should embrace. They don’t, of course, and the moment is incredibly touching.

But they find a way in a simple gesture which reminds us just how unbelievably awful 2020 has been, but just as importantly a gesture which reminds us just how strong the human spirit is and just how brightly hope can still burn.

The obstacles which have piled up in the way of this production have been immense, months of “Can we? Can’t we?” and “Will we? Won’t we?”, months of uncertainty followed by rehearsals full of unimaginable restrictions and complicated protocols.

And yet they have done it. In fact, they have more than done it. They have pulled it off magnificently in a show which wraps you up in a wonderful virtual hug which somehow feels even better than the real ones we are denied.

Moments before the show started, we discovered that our A&E doctor son isn’t going to be able to come home at all this Christmas. It was a remarkable comfort, just moments later, to be watching a tale which tells us that we all get back together in the end.

Who would have thought, when it was announced so long ago, that Pinocchio would be so absolutely perfect for these horrid times…

The astonishing thing – despite all the constraints, despite the reduced cast – is that Pinocchio still seems so much the kind of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre show that we have grown to love and expect.

It is huge on colour and imagination, huge on energy, skill and humour and above all brim-full of heart. The company have explored the art of the possible and delivered far more than any of us could ever have dared hope.

Of course, there are outstanding performances, not least Archie Elliot in the immense role of Pinocchio, the puppet who comes to life and is forced to stumble through all sorts of new worlds as he learns the lessons of responsibility and authenticity.

But it seems wrong to single out names in a group of young people who have truly shown the strength of their togetherness and who have collectively risen so wonderfully in the face of such adversity.

As ever, the youth theatre – directed with trademark compassion and intelligence by Dale Rooks – leads the way.

With Portsmouth and Southampton pantos succumbing to these ghastly times this week, Pinocchio feels like the last show standing.

The youngsters and everyone involved have responded by giving us something that goes beyond special.