Sunday, 21 January 2018

Soutine, Modigliani and Cezanne - Portraits Exhibitions

It seems to be portraits season in London at the moment, with three major portraits exhibitions open at the same time: Soutine at the Courtauld, Modigliani at Tate Modern and Cezanne at the National Portrait Gallery. I've no idea why this is the year of the portrait (apparently) but it's nice to see the very different treatments of the portrait by three different artists who didn't live so far apart.

The Soutine exhibition is, as ever, rather bijou, using the usual two rooms at the top of the Courtauld Gallery. The price of entry to the exhibition is included in the general entry ticket so, as well as looking at the Soutines, you can see the rather impressive Courtauld collection as well (and don't forget the early Renaissance works on the ground floor that too many people seem to walk past - there are three Fra Angelico panels in there).

My abiding impression of the Soutine portraits is gorgeous colours and distorted bodies and faces. The portraits are of hotel and restaurant workers and, probably, some in domestic service, all the opposite of the type of people who usually have their portraits painted. Some seem to be humble whereas others swagger and you probably wouldn't want to meet them in a dark alley. One of my favourites was the narrow-faced and big eared pastry chef in his acres of uniform umpteen times too big for him, shrinking away from the artist and slightly concerned. Of course, all that white isn't necessarily white as you see all different colours smeared into the overalls. There are a few other pastry chef paintings, seemingly of different sitters but I liked this one.

Another painting I liked was this one of a hotel worker described as having different jobs (Soutine, apparently, rarely titled his paintings so dealers gave different names to them). There are actually four different painting of this bloke, two with hands on hips, one with hands lying flat on his thighs and one close-up. In each the facial features are distorted but he wears the same uniform. Apparently he was't a good sitter and got bored very quickly and started fidgeting. I like knowing things like that about portrait sitters - it helps to bring them alive. From the pose and expression I can well understand it in his case, too.

A much bigger exhibition is the series of portraits by Madiglioni at Tate Modern on the other side of the river from the Courtauld and a bit further downstream.

It was a very busy exhibition when I visited so I really need to go back again to get a closer look at the paintings. My overall impression was of a lack of eyes in any of the portraits - eyes left blank or painted in black but few depictions of eyes. There was a quote somewhere from Modigliani to the effect that he'd paint in the sitters eyes when he had seen his or her soul. That's an interesting supposition but I wonder whether he just found them difficult to portray in a non-mannered way so avoided the problem. I'd be tempted to do that.

There's a nice selection of paintings in a big exhibition, nudes and society women, workmen to gentlemen. A bit of this and a bit of that. There's even an opportunity to try out a virtual reality headset but I didn't bother because of the queue, maybe next time.

The extended and simplified shapes of bodies and features was a bit odd but eventually drew me in. What was missing - although I may have passed them due to the crowds - were early works before he developed his style that demonstrated that he actually was an excellent draughtsman and knew how to draw and paint 'properly', that would help us understand how he developed his own style. Or did he just launch his 'style' and start selling paintings that encouraged his to keep using the style.

In an odd way it's both a bit repelling and attractive at the same time, the elongated figures, faces and features, no real sense of proportion in many of the paintings and no clear rationale for what he chose to do. Does that matter? The further into the exhibition I went the more compelled I felt to look and appreciate, to wonder and to start making up stories about the sitters. It's worth taking a close look at the paintings, all with a high finish, but wonder why he chose an elongated nose and tiny eyes here or an exaggerated pose there?

I certainly want a second viewing and intend to go back when, hopefully it is less busy. I'll leave you with a self-portrait of the man himself with blacked out eyes.

An exhibition that I'd already seen in Paris was the Cezanne portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I first saw it at the Musee D'Orsay in Paris back in September, before it travelled to London. It heads off to Washington after London.

When I say i'd already seen this exhibition, that's not entirely true. What I should say is that I'd *most* of this exhibition before since it's not exactly the same - some of the paintings on show in Paris aren't on show here, and some are shown here that weren't on show in Paris. The most obvious are some rather cold paintings of the artists's son that I hadn't seen before.

The central paintings are, of course, here, including the boy in the red waistcoat that is, again, the poster for the exhibition. I have to say that, much as I love the D'Orsay, I preferred the layout of the paintings in the National Portrait Gallery which gave them more space and seemed less crowded despite being just as busy. On the other hand, the shop in the D'Orsay had more themed merchandise and cards than the National Portrait Gallery ( I notice such things).

Having done a painting course inbetweenseeing the exhibition for the first and second times, I looked at the paintings with a different eye, looking at the obvious brush strokes in some paintings and wondering what sort of brush he used and wondered why some brush-strokes go *that* way while others go *this* way. If you're interested in painting then this is an excellent exhibition to visit to get some ideas on technique as well as style.

If I could only go to one of these exhibitions then I'd definitely choose Cezanne - without him then the other two painters probably wouldn't have developed their distinctive styles. Well done Mt Cezanne and, especially, your long-suffering wife whom you kept on painting.

Friday, 19 January 2018

'Song of the Earth/La Sylphide' - the English National Ballet at the London Coliseum

Last week we went to see the English National Ballet dance a double bill of 'Song of the Earth' and 'La Sulphide' at the Coliseum. I hadn't seen either ballet before and knew nothing about them but, in hindsight, it was a rather odd pairing. 'Song of the Earth' is almost pure dance whereas 'La Sulphide is full of storytelling. I enjoyed both but I suspect there are better pairings.

'Song of the Earth' is a single act ballet by Kenneth MacMillan set to music by Mahler. It's full of dance and is very elegant, with simple staging and costumes helping to make the emphasis the movements of the dancers. It's split into a number of different movements with different combinations of dancers and dancing. On the evening that I saw it one of the dancers was blatantly out of sync with the others in the first movement and that was rather jarring. It also affected how I saw the rest of the movements, waiting for that dancer to come on and make similar mistakes but, thankfully, he didn't. I enjoyed the dancing but would like to see it again, done properly, and probably with a different ballet to follow on from it.

'La Sylphide' is a very different portion of haggis, with lots of story-telling and characterisation and it was really in the second act that the dancing took off. It's set in a Scottish manor house (cue kilts for everyone) where the laird is due to get married but falls in love with an ethereal fairy - you know it's her because she's the only one in a frothy frock rather than a kilt. For some reason there's an old witch involved and she wants to ruin the laird's life (not sure why) so she casts a spell to make the laird kill his love. This happens when he's in some fairyland glen surrounded by other fairies coming and going.

In a sense, it's a rather daft plot and there wasn't a single bagpipe in the orchestra, but I really liked it. Despite the gloomy ending it's actually great fun. Bright red and yellow kilts added lots of colour to the gloomy manor house set and the fairies flitted about nicely in the magical glen. It's a sad ending - and I still don't understand the witch's role - but I'm pleased I've seen it. A hour of whimsy after the more serious 'Song of the Earth'.

'Barnum' at the Menier Chocolate Factory

'Barnum' is a big show so how will it play at a more bijou theatre like the Choccy Factory? The dreary days of January are the perfect time to find out, grey outside and full of colour inside. It's also full of circus acts, singing, energetic dancing, giant elephants, tight-rope walking, invisible lions, flame eating and everything else you'd expect from the greatest show on earth - except that we don't see 'the greatest show on earth', we see everything that leads up to it.

I'd never seen 'Barnum' before so the story was new to me. It tells the tale of PT Barnum, a showman living off humbug and blarney married to his young wife with their children. We see his career grow as he gradually finds his role, always yearning for the colour and magic of performance and, seemingly, getting it. His wife is his stalwart critic and supporter and it's her that sends him to Europe to hire a famous singer to bring back to America. He brings the singer and then has an affair with her, leaving his wife to run the family business. He ultimately goes back to his wife, tries to settle down, gets into politics and then his wife dies. He then meets Mr Bailey who seeks his advice on setting up a new circus and the show ends when he agrees to join Bailey to produce the greatest show on earth.

It's a fast-moving monster of a show that somehow fits into the Choccy factory. I don't know how, but it does. For the first time in its history, the Choccy has transformed the bar/box office area to create a circus atmosphere with the walls covered in canvas with adverts for the various acts, signs on doors to warn of dangerous animals (the lion lived behind one of those doors) and the theatre space is now a circus ring. I heartily approve.

I loved it and have decided that I will run away and join a circus when I grow up. Some of the cast seem to have had some circus training to perform their acts, there are singers and dancers a-plenty and a special shout out to Danny Collins who played a couple of roles. I thought Marcus Brigstock (Barnum) and Laura Pitt-Pulford (Mrs Barnum) had a great on-stage presence together, nicely playing off each other. I found it hard to hear Marcus Brigstock singing (a problem with the mic?) but that's my only criticism of the show. It's great fun! Such great fun, in fact, that I've already got tickets to see it again!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Oscar Wilde's 'De Profundis' at the Vaudeville Theatre

Part of the year long season of Oscar Wilde plays at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand is a short series of performances of the long letter Oscar wrote to Bosie from Reading Gaol. It's performed by Simon Callow lasts around 1:40 hours. How Simon remembers all those words, those endless, numerous words while on stage alone is really quite astonishing. Or at least it was until I noticed the two screens attached to the front of the dress circle, presumably there 'just in case'.

A bare stage with just a chair and a light shining above Simon's head, this is all about the words and the emotion behind them, the sheer exasperation of Oscar with Bosie's behaviour at times, the feeling that he in thrall to the younger man who uses Oscar and he just can't break away from him, even when he flees to Paris to put some distance between them. The letter tells us of their friendship and relationship over the years, recounting specific incidents and how Oscar reacts and interprets them. Of course, we only hear Oscar's side of the story but Lord Alfred Douglas sounds like a nasty little shit who was only interested in using Oscar for his position and money and then loses interest. The awful thing is that Oscar seems to see this quite plainly but keeps forgiving the little shit and keeps giving him more money and attention.

I've seen Simon Callow on stage before in plays, but this was just him along on stage with only a chair as a prop and to sit on. He does move around, gets down on his knees. stands, leans on the back of the chair, sits on an arm, but that's it. He's caught in a small space with his memories, just like Oscar was when in jail. It was an impressive performance.

'De Profundis' was adapted for the stage by Frank McGuinness and performed by Simon Callow.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Plastic Bag Awards 2017

It's that time of year again when awards are awarded, winners are overjoyed and losers try to smile through their tears but let's not get sentimental since there can be only one winner (no tied votes here). Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Plastic Bag Awards for 2017, in other words, the Baggies!

Best Theatre - Shakespeare

This has been a poor year for Shakespeare in the Plastic Bag and there are only two nominees in this category. Both are worthy to be nominated but neither were perfect productions.

'Hamlet' at the Almeida Theatre
'The Tempest' at the Barbican Theatre

I liked the new production of 'Hamlet' with Andrew Scott right up until the made-up ending scene and I liked Simon Russell Beale as Prospero and I loved the fluidity of the electronic flying Ariel but it wasn't really all that smooth. So, neither ticked all the boxes, but the Baggie goes to 'Hamlet'.

Best Theatre - Drama

There were some very powerful productions on stage in 2017 and the list of nominees could easily have been expanded but it's limited to five:

'The Glass Menagerie' at the Duke of York's Theatre
'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' at the Harold Pinter Theatre
'The Ferryman' at the Gielgud Theatre
'Angels in America' (both parts) at the National Theatre
'Young Marx' at the Bridge Theatre

Imelda Staunton and Paddy Considine both gave astonishing performances in 'Who's Afraid' and 'Ferryman' respectively and 'Angels' was a great ensemble performance across both parts of the play. 'Menagerie' and 'Marx' both had their great moments in very different types of play. The award must go to 'The Ferryman' for the excellent writing and poetry in the lines, the great performances and the shocks and twists and turns when least expected.

Best Theatre - Musical

The West End still seems to be full of musicals that have been on forever or jukebox musicals but there are still some gems with revivals and even new musicals being written and produced. The nominees are:

'Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill' at Wyndham's Theatre
'The Life' at Southwark Playhouse
'Follies' at the National Theatre
'42nd Street' at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
'Everybody's Talking About Jamie' at the Apollo Theatre

If there was an award for new musical it would go to 'Jamie' and new one full of life and love and and joy but it's up against stiff competition this year. It was great, as always, to see Sharon D Clarke in 'The Life' and be introduced to new talent T'Sham Williams, and Audra McDonald was astonishing in 'Lady Day. However, the winner has to be the great production of 'Follies' at the National Theatre and the excellent performances by Imelda Staunton and Janie Dee.

Best Entertainment

An 'entertainment' is a performance that doesn't really fit into any of the other categories, such as one-man/woman shows, readings and cabaret. There are only three nominations this year:

'Miss Hope Springs' at the Wigmore Halls
'Bent' at the National Theatre
'A Poem for Every Day of the Year' at the National Theatre

The winner was easy to pick for the harrowing and powerful performance of a staged reading of 'Bent' at the National Theatre, a production I won't soon forget.

Best Gig

There was a time when I'd go to a gig a couple of times a month (or more) but these days it's a much rarer thing. There are only three nominations:

Suzanne Vega at the London Palladium
Bananarama at Hammersmith
The Unthanks at the Royal Festival Hall

It is always a joy to see Suzanne Vega play live and last year was the anniversary shows for 'Solitude Standing' and '99.9C' in which she played both albums all the way through. The Unthanks gave a veery moving performance with an orchestra as backing band and there were some astonishing arrangements of their songs. But the Baggie must go to those three mad girls in Bananarama who brought joy to Hammersmith and made us all young again. Keep it up girls!

Best Dance

I saw a lot of dance in 2017, with lots of triple bills of ballets as well as full length performances. Two Wayne McGregor's ('Woolf' and 'Codes') and both were excellent and innovative. Two one-act ballets from separate triple bills at the Royal Opera House really stood out as well as an innovative production of the story of 'Alice'.

'Woolf Works' at the Royal Opera House
'Tree of Codes' at Sadler's Wells
'Rubies' as part of the 'Jewels' triple bill at the Royal Opera House
'Flight Pattern' as part of a triple bill at the Royal Opera House
'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' at the Royal Opera House

The judging panel found this to be a very difficult decision but they were kept locked away until they could hand over an envelope with one title in it. That title was 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' for the astonishing performances, the innovative designs and the sheer wonder and fun of the thing. Well done Royal Ballet!

Best Exhibition

This category was a difficult one to narrow down the nominees from the large number of really good exhibitions visited this year, but here are the final nominations:

'Revolution: Russian Art 1917 - 1932' at the Royal Academy
'Michelangelo & Sebastiano' at the National Gallery
'Raphael: The Drawings' at the Ashmolean Museum
'Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home In Antiquity' at Leighton House Museum
'C├ęzanne Portraits' at Musee D'Orsay and the National Portrait Gallery

It was great to see artists whose works I;m very familiar with next to those of artists I've never heard of before and wondering why not? Seeing classics from the High Renaissance and revolutionary works from the last century and then seeing painting after painting by an artist who hasn't had his own exhibition in over 30 years. So much to see and wonder at. However, the Baggie goes Mr Cezanne and his portraits of family and friends that I saw both at Musee D'Orsay and at the National Portrait Gallery.

Best Film

Given the many different film genres it's probably unfair to try to compare films showing wild leaps of imagination next to documentaries but there's only one category for film I'm afraid. The nominees are:

'La La Land'
'Wonder Woman'
'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2'
'Here To Be Heard: The Story of The Slits'
'Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World'

'La La Land' was a joy and a sadness, 'Wonder Woman' was an inspiration and 'Guardians' was just daft fun. 'The Slits' told a story I was partially familiar with but from a different perspective and 'Rumble' told a story I wasn't familiar with at all and I learned so much from it. The winner has to be 'Here To Be Heard: The Story of The Slits' because I go back so many years with those women. Well done!

And there you have it, the Baggies for 2017! I wonder what 2018 will be like?

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

'A Christmas Carol' at The Old Vic

This evening was another Christmas in a visit to The Old Vic to see the new version of 'A Christmas Carol' which is one of my favourite stories so I can't help but be a harsh judge of any production of it. The problem in trying to do a blog is that The Old Vic asked visitors not to share the many surprises and moments of wonder in the show so we don't spoil it for others. I'll do my best to avoid spoilers and only mention anything that's already been mentioned in reviews.

The first surprise was entering the auditorium to see it split in half by a runway from the stage to the back of the stalls. I knew there were seats on stage but the auditorium has virtually been remodelled for this show. In various places around the auditorium (and, I assume, in the circle) were actors dressed as market traders handing out oranges and mince pies to any who wanted them. I thought that was a lovely touch for the season.

With no scenery and minimal props it's quite an accolade to consider how the acting and the imaginative lighting created such a warm spectacle and drew the audience into its magic. I loved the hundreds of lanterns suspected above the stage to help create the atmosphere. The first 'wow' moment for me was when Marley walked onto the runway and proceeded to walk the length of the stalls dragging behind him a huge chain that went on and on and on - dead spooky!

It's not perfect and there are downsides to this new version. Too much is made up! Surely everyone knows that we never meet Scrooge's dad, that Mr Fezziwig wasn't an undertaker, that no-one made eulogies over Scrooge's coffin and that Scrooge celebrates Christmas at his nephew's house not with the Cratchits. It's not rocket science guys, there's a book where the story is all written down for you. I know you can't have all the story on stage but why make up so much when there's already a perfect story to explore?

Anyway, leaving that to one side (I *am* an 'A Christmas Carol' purist after all) there's more than enough magic in the show - and not a little daftness in the second half - to make it a magical experience. There was when .... um and then there was when ... and then, um.... No, I won't spoil it for you, you need to see it for yourself. I can tell you that snow erupts over the stalls to gasps of wonder, excitement and surprise (I got snowed on so was happy). It was also nice to hear so many Christmas carols woven into the story. I liked hearing sentences from the book spoken every now and then, mainly by the chorus.

Rhys Ifans was good as Scrooge, a bit mean to start off with (of course) and gradually finding his comic bone as the play progressed. It's clearly a star vehicle for him but he played it as part of an ensemble cast that took all the other parts, changing roles and costumes every few minutes. They were excellent and I wouldn't single any of them out as ether particularly good or bad - they were a solid cast.

By the end of the play we see the truth in Dickens' words that close the story in that, " was always said of him [Scrooge], that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge." Mr Scrooge is surely the Spirit of Christmas. I loved it and bought the programme.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

'A Woman of No Importance' at the Vaudeville Theatre

A year of Oscar Wilde plays has started at the Vaudeville Theatre so it was time to jump in and get all Wildean. An additional draw was a cast headed up by Eve Best, Anne Reid and Eleanor Bron with the additional delight of William Gaunt having a small role as a local clergyman (I last saw him play John O'Gaunt, his namesake). With that cast and a Wilde play, what's not to like, especially when we were seated down the front of the stalls with perfect views?

The play opens at the country house of Lady Hunstanton who has invited a range of different people in the hops of having an interesting weekend. We have a young lady from America, various members of the aristocracy that seem to go from one country house to the next, a young clerk that Lady Hunstanton has taken an interest in, a politician and various others. A late Victorian play is, of course, full of morality and preaching and very so often you can clearly hear Wilde's Irish views spouted by the young American lady, a cypher for his own views on 'society' and the upper classes.

When Lord Illingworth offers the young clerk, Arbuthnot, a job as his secretary everyone is happy for him. It's a good step, after all. And his mother is invited to join the party for dinner. And that's where the tone changes since Mrs Arbuthnot ran away to live with Lord Illingworth when they were both young but he refused to marry her when she became pregnant. She doesn't want her son to have anything to do with the father who did nothing to help them all those years ago and we see her explain that Lord Illingworth is actually his father. That's where the twists and turns become ever more sharper.

It's a very enjoyable production, excellently delivered. Eve Best is a safe pair of hands as the 'woman of no importance', independent and strong whose only flaw seems to be her relationship with her selfish son. The son annoyed me - that's partly the writing of course, but mainly his stupid 'Ed Sheeran' hair style that was all over the place while everyone else was in character. It was a delight to see Eleanor Bron on stage who was imperious and, well, she played Eleanor Bron really well.

A very pleasant surprise was seeing Anne Reid on stage for the first time. Not only did we get a great performance but she came out in-between acts with some of the 'servants' to sing appropriate songs that helped the story move forward and she has a lovely singing voice. She was a friend of Barbara Cook so that's hardly surprising.

Once we got over young Arbuthnot's tantrums at the end of the play he finds a glove in his mother's drawing room, not knowing that Lord Illingworth had visited earlier and his mother had slapped his face with that glove. Her response to the question of whose glove it was was a very satisfying ending when she said it belonged to 'a man of no importance'. Take that!

Well done all, I really enjoyed this production and I'm looking forward to the next one now. Seeing a Wilde play every few months seems like a nice thing to do. Thank you Vaudeville for taking the plunge and committing to a Wilde year!

Fra Angelico 12/12

This year I've been posting a photo of a painting by Fra Angelico that I've actually seen on the 18th of the month to celebrate his feast day of 18 February. This month, in the run up to Christmas, it's right to post a nativity scene from San Marco in Florence.

In this scene we see Mary and Joseph praying to their son while St Peter Martyr and St Catherine also pray to their lord. I like the angels on the roof (they get everywhere) and the donkey and the ox in the stable. Despite all the characters in the painting it's actually quite sparse, with a bare ground for the babe to lie on and bare walls to the stable. There's also no real reason for the saints to be there.

I've enjoyed sharing my year of Fra Angelico paintings and I'm looking forward to seeing more 'new' paintings by the good brother next year at the exhibition in Boston. 

'The Box of Delights' at Wilton's Music Hall

This evening we went to see an epic battle of good and evil to save Christmas in 'The Box of Delights' at Wilton's Music Hall. I've never been to Wilton's before but it had a Christmas Tree in the (rather small) auditorium so it gets a thumbs up from me. It's actually the perfect setting for a play like this and it helped create a lovely atmosphere.

We had wolves (oh yes we did), magicians, magical boxes with the power to shrink you down to the size of a mouse, a witch who flew, a master jewel thief, a deluge and, best of all, Toby, a really clever dog who definitely wasn't a puppet.

Our hero is Kay Harker who is on the train to his guardian's house for Christmas when he meets an old Punch & Judy man who has a mysterious Box of Delights. The old man is being hunted by wolves in human form and he must ensure the box is protected at all costs. The wolves want the box for their lord who is an evil magician and wants to use it to time travel and wreak havoc (which is what evil magicians do). The evil magician needs to stop Christmas happening to save himself so he arranges for all the clerics in the cathedral to be kidnapped and imprisoned so there's no-one left to celebrate Christmas. And the clock is ticking, getting closer to Christmas Eve...

It's a dark tale of dastardly dealings and despair until Kay plucks up his courage to confront the evil magician to save his friend and save Christmas. A roller-coaster ride of ups and downs that I won't spoil for you here - you'll have to see it for yourself.

The best things about it were Matthew Kelly as the nice magician (he also played the evil magician) and Josefina Gabrielle as the evil witch who can fly (and she does). Both were on top form and a joy to behold (I'd cross the road to avoid that witch, just in case...)

There were some lovely, imaginative scenes, like when the old man opens the Box of Delights and we see a golden, be-jewelled phoenix flying around the stage before it smolders in its own embers. The designers have clearly put some thought into how to make this work in a magical way on that small stage. And, by and large, they succeed. It wasn't perfect by any means but I really enjoyed it. It made me leave the real world outside and slip gently into this magical world and share the perils and joys of this strange 1930s world.

Well done all, I really enjoyed it! And thank you for saving Christmas!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

'Pinocchio' at the National Theatre

This years' Christmas show at the National Theatre is 'Pinocchio', the Disney version rather than sticking to the book. I've been looking forward to this one: will it have the Disney magic? how will his nose grow? what will the transformation from puppet to boy be like? It's not the easiest story to transfer to the stage but I thought it was done rather splendidly.

The first surprise was that the 'humans' in the story are actually the puppets. Heads and torso for the 'humans' were carried round by the actor playing the part plus helpers to move the arms and it worked really well. It also added another level of menace in some of the scenes, with giants looming over poor little Pinocchio.

You do, of course, already know the story. Geppetto is a toy-maker who makes a puppet boy as his son and Pinocchio has a series of adventures that help him to become a human boy. He's handily given a cricket as a conscience to help explain the story and, in this version, Jiminy is a lady puppet so doesn't have the top hat and spats I was expecting. The 'star fairy' - when not played by a human - is a flame that flits about the stage and I have no idea how they did that. I suspect it was magic.

Since the 'humans' are puppets, it makes it easier for Pinocchio to be played as a real life human dwarfed by the puppets he interacts with. The scene when Pinocchio is carved out of a tree trunk is a surprise I won't spoil here but it made me sit up and take notice. What I didn't understand was why Pinocchio had trousers and braces but no shirt? Of course he wears a shirt and should be given one immediately. The poor thing must've been freezing in this weather.

The only section I wasn't keen on were the Pleasure Island' scenes that seemed over-long and a bit obvious. It was nice to get different voices and sounds on stage by that point in the play - and nice to have the stage full of scenery and props that kept being moved and changed - but I felt those scenes could easily have been shortened without affecting the overall play.

I'm pleased they included the main songs from the film - 'When You Wish Upon A Star' and 'I've Got No Strings' - and I couldn't help grinning like a loon when they were sung (and I was singing along in my head), In that scene the 'puppets' (played by humans, of course) were dangling on the end of strings while Pinocchio danced around freely. I loved the patchwork costumes in these scenes which helped with the overall illusion. It was nice that both musical themes kept swirling back very now and then amongst the other music in the play.

Was it perfect Christmas viewing? No, not quite, but it was full of spectacle and surprises that keep even older children like me happy. I bought the programme but probably won't do the colouring in and other games it included.

Well done to Joe Idris-Roberts as Pinocchio, Audrey Brisson as Jiminy, Mark Hadfield as Geppetto and Annette McLaughlin as the Blue Fairy, with a special shout to David Langham as the evil Mr Fox who got his just desserts by cutting off his own tail. That's what happens to baddies, you know.