Pinocchio returns to Chichester Festival Theatre this Christmas

It’s been Chichester, Chichester, Chichester for Bobby Brook of late.

Director Bobby Brook in rehearsal for Pinocchio - Photo Richard Gibbons
Director Bobby Brook in rehearsal for Pinocchio - Photo Richard Gibbons

After serving as assistant director on last year’s Chichester Festival Youth Theatre Christmas production of Pinocchio, she is delighted to return to the show this year to direct it in her own right (Dec 18-Jan 1) – for what everyone is hoping will be the full run it was denied in 2020.

In between times she was back in Chichester this summer as assistant director on South Pacific – a wonderful experience.

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Last year, Pinocchio was directed by Dale Rooks, the CFT’s director of learning, education and participation. This year, Bobby takes over – with the fondest memories of the 2020 run which was forced to close on Christmas Eve: “There were definitely moments last year when we were thinking how on earth are we going to be able to do this, but the fact that we managed to stage a socially distanced production and that we managed to cope with all the restrictions is something I am enormously proud of. As far as I was concerned as a freelancer it was just wonderful to be back working again and it felt a major achievement but then it was so suddenly taken away. It was heartbreaking to get the news that we had to close on Christmas Eve. We had had the previews and we had opened the show. We had two teams, two separate companies performing and one of the teams did the opening night and then we got the news that we were going into Tier 4 which meant that that company’s opening night suddenly was suddenly also its closing night. The other company did the next couple of shows.

“It was so sad. I was sitting there with the movement director for the final performance and it is safe to say that there were a lot of tears but also wonderful pride that we managed to get through it and to do what we did do. I was not involved in the conversations as to whether they were going to do it again this year but I had the feeling, knowing Dale, there was a real sense that they had something special and that they needed to go back to it and I’m so pleased to be doing this now.”

As for the extent to which they are starting afresh: “Dale and I had a very good conversation over the summer and she said there were moments she was very happy for me to explore in different ways. We’ve got some new material, some new music and some new lyrics. There are some tweaks to the dialogue and also some bigger changes. It is not going to be the same show that we had last year. We’ve also got a new movement director so the choreography and the movement will change as well. And obviously last year we didn’t have 68 in the cast. We had two companies each of about 30 and so we never had more than 30 people on the stage at one time. Now we can have 68 people on stage. It is mind-boggling. It won’t happen much that we have everyone on the stage at the same time. We have got a beautiful set but it does limit the space, but we will be able to use the auditorium as well which we couldn’t do last year. There were so many things that we couldn’t do last year. We were kicking ourselves knowing what we couldn’t do but the great thing was that I’m sure the audience weren’t aware of that and I’m sure that the performance didn’t feel compromised because of it, but it was frustrating for us thinking all the things that we couldn’t do. So it’s fantastic now to be able to explore everything in a new way.

“We do have some of returning cast members who are playing the same roles and also some returning cast members who are playing different roles. There’s a real mix and I made it clear to those that are playing the same roles that I would be pushing them and challenging them. It is quite difficult for them. There is a lot of muscle memory that they have to eradicate as they start again. And we also have some people in the show playing different roles to what they did last year. But also we’ve got about 45 per cent of the company that have never done at Chichester Festival Youth Theatre Christmas show before and that in itself is very challenging.”