Theatre: PINOCCHIO, TEATRO KISMET Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture
One of the depressing things about reading to your children is that most fairy tales are already known to them on video. The mawkish maw of Walt Disney gorges on any fable that folk literature can sling at it. Any initiative to repossess narratives purloined by Hollywood and excise the all-American show tunes deserves all the applause it can muster. Teatro Kismet did just that with their spritely production of Pinocchio.

A band of strolling players in the old style, the company broke with tradition by working for the first time with a writer, and an English one at that. The adaptation of Carlo Collodi's original was the work of Peter Biddle, while director Martin Duncan of the Nottingham Playhouse cleverly harnessed the Kismet's technical inventiveness. The result was a delightful and frank insight into the business of stagecraft, and how the simplest of props, percussive sound effects and (in this case) rather elaborate costumes can be used to decorate and enhance the play.

Most of the set-pieces were enchantingly done, especially the birth of Pinocchio, in which Vittorio Cosentino's carrot-mopped Geppetto released his supine form from a block of wood like Frankenstein running volts through his monster. In a witty pun available to adults only, the arrival of the interval left things literally in suspense, as Pinocchio dangled perilously from a noose.

The show was aimed at children from six up: any younger and they wouldn't have benefited from the education stitched seamlessly into the entertainment. When Monica Contini's raucous Pinocchio was robbed by the cat and the fox, it was presented as his come-uppance for not attending school; and the blue fairy overcame his refusal to take his medicine by ushering on a couple of scary ghouls in black crepe and top hats.

Teatro Kismet combine the language of the country where they're performing with Italian, so that most of the dialogue contains its own subtitles. It would be a disturbing six-year-old who could follow all the speech, but most children would have picked up on the texture of Italian. They certainly would have understood that the tale of Pinocchio once had a life away from cartoons, and still does.