The Adventures of Pinocchio

Anne-Marie Marquess has a whale of a time, and no fibbing

In this technologically obsessed era of ipods and computer games, taking opera to children is no mean feat. Jonathon Dove and Alasdair Middleton's The Adventures of Pinocchio is, however, a unique and colourful production, acting as a wonderful introduction to the art form for children and adults alike.

Majestic sets, spectacular costumes and scenes that flow effortlessly one into the next make this production a  visual extravaganza and a pleasure to watch.

Every space on the Grand Opera House's stage is brought to life with song and dance, puppet shows, court scenes, grand gestures, carnivals, cartwheels, giants, whales and wagons. Fantastic lighting, accomplished music, opulently designed costumes and imaginative sets bring this Opera North version of the classic story to life. Pinocchio

The show opens with a wooden set and an abandoned log that begins to sing 'Make Me' to Geppetto the carpenter, who takes it home to work on. The log gradually takes shape - a hand appears, then a foot. 'Naughty wood, be good,' sings Gepetto. Lights flash dramatically, reminiscent of Frankenstein, as Gepetto hunches over the table to carve.

Finally Pinocchio emerges, a very naughty boy with a very long nose, who is not keen on work or school. The Cricket then appears - one of the notably eccentric characters on show, perched on the side of the wall, dressed in a beautiful, emerald green costume complete with antennae. He tries to advise Pinocchio but to no avail, as Pinocchio quickly gets bugged and attempts to squish the interferring insect.

Equally unforgettable are the comic and criminal combination of the Cat and the Fox. The Fox stands tall and aristocratic, hair teased into peaks, while the Cat stands small and squat, reminiscent of the fawn from CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Fox and CatThey both delight with a devious and deceitful quality, expressed through every move, expression and song. The ethereal and irridescent Blue Fairy conjures up all that is magical, and even her theme music seems to sparkle.

The visual effects in this production were tremendous, such attention to detail and unlike anything I'd seen before. Over two acts, the 20 scenes contrast with one another, bringing something different each time. Memorable moments include the puppet show, complete with harlequin-style Venetian characters.

Then there is the scene in which Pinocchio refuses to take his medicine. Sinister, raven-styled undertakers arrive, complete with coffin, to change his mind. This is sinister and creepy, think dark comic books or Watership Down meets Sweeney Todd. Needless to say, the wooden boy is soon singing for his medicine.

Throughout the production, poor old Pinocchio is lifted into the sky on a pigeon ride, becomes lost at sea and swallowed by a whale. In the ocean scene, the stage fills from top to bottom with waves. The Giant that appears on the seashore is spectacular, dwarfing all other characters on stage and generating a lot of excitement in the audience.

It’s rare to see such an extravagant production. The costumes and sets are sensational, the acting, dancing - and most importantly, the singing - are excellent. There's fun, sadness, humour, horror, hope and happiness all the way.

Full credit to the director, Martin Duncan, for pulling together such a powerful production. If you thought opera was wooden, maybe The Adventures of Pinocchio will change your mind. This is one puppet bound to pull your strings.