No lie! Torrent Productions is bringing Pinocchio to panto-land

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Stephanie Graham and Rob Torr; photo by Sam Gaetz, Gaetz Photography

No lie . . .Torrent Productions is readying to bring Pinocchio to life in Pinocchio – A Merry Magical Pantomime. Touch wood, the tale of the puppet who becomes a boy has been re-imagined by Caroline Smith as a pantomime, which is historically a British Christmas tradition and is thus a perfect way to kick off the holidays. Honestly . . ., it’s happening at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 1/42 from December 22 – 31. For real!

Torrent Productions was founded by writer-composer-director Rob Torr and Dora Award winning choreographer Stephanie Graham, a versatile husband-and-wife team whose talents span the spectrum of Canadian theatre, and have included such eclectic hits as Hipcheck the Musical about a women’s rec hockey team, and Killer Business, a musical comedy whodunnit. Their second annual panto follows on the heels of the successful Robin Hood –  A Merry Magical Pantomime last year. As with Robin Hood, Torr is directing, and Graham has choreographed the show. “We chose Pinocchio for this year’s pantomime because Rob has always loved the story of Pinocchio,” Graham enthuses.

And Torr is far from alone: since Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi debuted as a book in 1881, the character of the marionette who turns into a boy has consistently captivated and held the popular imagination. In the original depiction, Pinocchio is naughty and mean-spirited from the moment of his creation. Collodi intended the story to be a cautionary tale: a tragedy that ends with Pinocchio’s execution at the hands of the Fox and the Cat. Of course, the story of Pinocchio has since undergone iterations and changes in various media, and is referenced too frequently in popular culture to track. (As just one example, the impish but good-hearted mischief-maker with the endearing feather in his cap is a Disneyfication far removed from the “rascal” that Collodi created.)

Despite the variations, several aspects remain consistent in every Pinocchio. Pinocchio is carved from wood by the carpenter Gepetto.  He has a nose that grows when he feels stress or tells a lie. After he runs away from Gepetto’s shop, he encounters conniving animals and the famous Blue Fairy. His numerous adventures take him into the belly of a whale. And at story’s end, he earns his wish to become a human boy.

Given these beloved characters and this familiar plot, audiences will immediately find much in Pinocchio – A Merry Magical Pantomime to connect and respond to. But Torr and Graham feel that, as “a timeless tale with good and evil, and [where] love conquers all,” the story lends itself particularly well to the participatory pantomime form. With pantomime, audience interaction is essential. Audiences are not only asked to make their voices heard–the form requires it: “We encourage cheering the hero and booing the villain, in true pantomime form.” Good news for children! Theatre etiquette such as being quiet during live performance does not apply here. The panto welcomes spontaneous reactions: the more exuberant, the better. For the actors feed on that energy.

And some of these actors will be familiar to audiences who enjoyed Robin Hood last year. Torrent is  welcoming back many of last year’s cast, plus two notable newcomers. Cameron Francis is Pinocchio and recently completed a six-month run in Anne and Gilbert in Charlottetown, PEI. Kelsey Verzotti, a recent Sheridan College graduate, performed in Britta Johnson’s new musical Life After this fall. Kevin Aichele, who has just returned from the US after starring in the new musical From Here to Eternity and played Little John in Robin Hood last year, will play the role of Stromboli in Pinocchio.

So just how will Pinocchio convey all of the story’s fantastical aspects in panto form? Don’t ask, because Torr and Graham won’t tell. They will, however, entice  . . . by divulging that Pinocchio – A Merry Magical Pantomime is packed with action and zingers, plus a magical surprise or two. They promise that “all … questions about the whale, Pinocchio’s nose and the transformation will be answered,” but not in advance of the show. They are firm: “no spoilers allowed!”

But they invite the Toronto public to slake their curiosity by coming to see Pinocchio in Gepetto’s magical toy shop at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch at the corner of Coxwell Ave and Gerrard Street East. As long-time residents of the Gerrard – Coxwell area, Torr and Graham have imbued the panto with personal connections to the neighbourhood and its distinct personality. And the intimacy of the Legion venue means “our cast gets a chance to feel the vibe of our neighbourhood. We most enjoy getting to highlight elements of our neighbourhood and to make the show our own.”

It also makes for a dynamic – and hopefully an ongoing – theatrical experience: “We want to make our pantomime a yearly tradition for the east end, and we welcome the community’s support to make that happen!”

A wonderful thought. And as we part, they holler a rhyming reminder of this year’s main attraction: “The Boy Made of Wood is in the Hood!”

True that! So practise those cheers and jeers. And keep them at hand when in panto-land!

News You Can Use

What: Pinocchio – A Merry Magical Pantomime, by Caroline Smith, based on the book by Carlo Collodi

Cast: Kevin Aichele,  Ryan Brown, Greg Campbell, Stuart Dowling, Cameron Francis, Daniel Greenberg, Cynthia Hicks, Kelsey Verzotti
Creative Team: Choreography by Stephanie Graham; Musical Direction by Noah MacDougall; Directed by Rob Torr

Who: Audiences of all ages

When: December 22 – 31, 2017

Where: Royal Canadian Legion Branch 1/42, 243 Coxwell Avenue, Toronto, ON

Info: Torrent Productions

Tickets: Brown Paper Tickets and 1.800.838.3006

© 2017 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

Posted in Theatre and tagged , , , .