Showing as part of Mimetic Festival 2014 (17 – 29 November 2014)
At times during Familia De La Noche’s re-imagining of Pinocchio you wonder if there can be any tricks left un-deployed by this multi-talented motley crew. Well as it turns out they leave one ace up their sleeve and in the final moments what had hitherto been a highly raucous and entertaining series of set-pieces reveals itself to be something that has every right to consider itself to be theatre. It is an unexpected moment of stillness that is ridden with pathos which breaks through the frenzy and displays the potent emotional heart that had beaten below its glossy surface all along.
The Greatest Liar In All The World manages to cram in acting, clowning, physical theatre, mime, musicianship, puppetry – shadow and actual, into sixty minutes. Amongst all of this they tell two stories; of the last show by the world’s greatest liar and, as a story-within-a-story, his own origins tale (that is perhaps best known by his more familiar name – Pinocchio).
It is a heady mix and one can sense the impetuousness of youth in their desire to cram all their undoubted skills into a single production. There is a resulting unevenness in tone and quality, with some parts inevitably working more strongly than others. The first half is the stronger of the two and as Pinocchio loses sight of his objectives when on Booby Island so, unfortunately, does the production. However the frenetic pace means this is soon followed by a wonderful display of shadow puppetry, that tells of our hero’s journey across the world in search of his love and saviour; the blue-haired girl.
It is a mark of the production that it often works best when making use of the specialist skills of its cast and its weaknesses are in tying it together with more traditional theatre ideas. This is further evidenced by the excellent puppetry on display. In Pinocchio they have built a simple but powerfully effective wooden boy. His face, whilst static, is able to convey a huge range of emotions and that is credit to both his operators and to the cast that perform with him.
It is not easy to act against a block of wood but when we see the puppet’s interact with the blue-haired mime we can believe, if only for a moment, in the power of theatre to transform the unreal into the real before our eyes; for a wooden boy with a spoon for a leg to be something that can truly exist.
The play’s energy is provided by Conrad Sharp’s highly engaging and lively central performance. He acts as an effective ringmaster and manages to walk a fine line between the depressive performer at the end of the road and the preening sensationalist who can never quite give up being centre stage. However it is Dott Cotton as the mime, part of The Greatest Liar’s ensemble, who is the silent heart of this show.
Civilian Theatre has never had the greatest relationship with mimes but watching one in their natural habitat is a revelatory experience. Stripped of any pretentious element and acting as a natural clown, Cotton showcases a masterclass in the art of upstaging – not with any malicious intent or in a way that destabilises the production but as an essential function in the role of clown to act as a silent commentary on the progressing action. Cotton manages says more with her eyes and gesture than some actors are able to achieve with the complete works of Shakespeare. She provided an emotional counterpoint to the surreal silliness on display and one is left only to reflect on what it is that makes a traditional clown such a tragic figure.
Despite some weak elements, the overriding impression left by Familia De La Noche is one of intense satisfaction which is bolstered by the unexpectedly powerful ending. They have demonstrated they are blessed with a vast array of talents and the biggest compliment to pay to The Greatest Liar In All The World is that by the end they had almost made this jaded reviewer believe. Almost.
Civilian Theatre is an Awards Partner Reviewer for the Mimetic Festival. For further enquiries please email firstname.lastname@example.org