Chichester's Pinocchio: "so much energy and so much fun

Director Dale Rooks admits that never in a million years did she ever think that she would one day be sharing the rehearsal room with a Covid officer.

Director Dale Rooks
Director Dale Rooks

But it’s one of the adaptations Chichester Festival Youth Theatre have had to make if they are going to bring Pinocchio to the CFT stage this year with its revised dates of December 16-January 2.

And it’s going to be worth it.

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“I am really absolutely loving it,” Dale says. “I am completely revelling in being in the rehearsal room and being creative. I haven’t directed for two years, and I had forgotten just how much the young people bring to it – so much energy and so much fun.”

And the whole thing will be an important statement: “It is hope really. It is bringing hope and theatre back and looking at the ways we can produce something even with all the restrictions.

“It’s about bringing people together and enabling them to have a bit of fun and enjoyment. It just feels so important to try to get some gain out of what has been a terrible year, and I know the young people feel the same.”

The youth theatre had to get an exemption to be able to continue with rehearsals once the second lockdown came in.

Dale admits she was worried they would lose the crucial half-term week when so much of the show comes together; in the event, they didn’t.

But inevitably they have had to proceed with plenty of contingency plans in place: “We have got two small companies, 28 and 27 people – and we are calling them appropriately the Fox and the Cat team.

“That was one of the things that we had to decide very early on that we would have two separate companies, and that has been one of the biggest challenges for me, having to rehearse each company.”

It helps that several key roles including Pinocchio, Geppetto, Fox and Cat, are bubbled across the two companies so that if one Pinocchio or one Geppetto is unable to take to the stage, the other Pinocchio or the other Geppetto can take over.

“There was just so much that you had to think of. And part of the process was a big discussion deciding that we couldn’t really have an interval, that we should try to go for one act which would make it much safer for everybody.

“And that was quite a big edit. It means that the running time will now be one hour 20 minutes, one hour 30 minutes when usually we would have something like 55 minutes either side of the interval. But I do think it makes sense.

“But it is just such a bizarre world.

“Never in a million years did I ever think I would have a Covid officer in our rehearsal room, someone who makes sure that we have social distancing.

“She is an ex-stage manager, and we made the rule ourselves that it would be sensible to have someone with us who can keep an eye on these things.

“She has put markers on the floor where we can sit; she checks temperatures when they come into the room; and she squirts the hand sanitiser.

“But actually the young people have just become routinised into what everyone needs to do.

“They are quite used to it. Really I just think they are so delighted that they can be doing something creative and just enjoying each other’s company in these difficult times.”

The show comes in a new adaptation by Anna Ledwich with music by Tom Brady from the original novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.

Anna’s previous work at Chichester includes The Butterfly Lion (2019), Crossing Lines (2019) and Beauty and the Beast (2018).

Dale Rooks’ previous work at the CFT includes The Butterfly Lion, The Midnight Gang and Running Wild.

Tickets from the theatre.