Pinocchio on Ice at showground

EMMA LEE The much-loved tale of Pinocchio, the puppet who wanted to become a real boy, is being staged with a twist in Norwich this Christmas. All the action takes place on ice – Emma Lee had a sneak preview of this magical show at a dress rehearsal in Hungary.

EMMA LEE

I was beginning to wonder where we would end up. It was only mid-afternoon but the thick mist which enveloped the Hungarian countryside made it feel rather bleak and almost like night-time.

In each village we passed through, householders were stoking fires fuelled by the fallen autumn leaves by the side of the road.

We were on our way from the country's capital, Budapest, to the town of Kaposvar two- and-a-half hours away where the cast of the Pinocchio on Ice show, which opens at the Norfolk Showground at Costessey on Tuesday, had been busy perfecting their lutzes, salchows and axels.


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It was an important event for the skaters and Euroice, the Hungarian company which has put the family show, based on the Italian novel about the wooden puppet who dreamed of becoming a real boy and whose nose grew when he told a lie, with a nod to the 1940 Disney film, together.

Work on the production, billed as a pantomime on ice, began in May, and with a month-and-a-half to go before opening night, the cast of 30 young skaters had only just started dress rehearsals and were still getting used to their costumes.

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And now they were performing in front of Tony Hopkins, the UK promoter who is bringing the show to Norfolk, journalists and several hundred townsfolk who had been invited along to see the show for free.

The rink, which usually hosts ice-hockey matches, was packed to the rafters and buzzing with excitement as Pinocchio, his father Geppetto and Jiminy Cricket skated into the spotlight.

The show is two hours long and it includes some breathtaking action sequences - and there are so many costume changes during the mischievous puppet's journey you lose count.

The costumes during an underwater sequence, where Pinocchio ends up in the belly of a whale, are particularly impressive.

There are also colourful, toe-tapping ensemble routines and sequences which really give individual dancers and pairs the chance to shine and show off their skills with some breathtaking jumps and lifts.

And there's plenty of light effects, and even a few pyrotechnics, to make the show really go with a bang.

For someone like me, who was a huge skating fan and had a poster of Torvill and Dean performing their famous Bolero routine on my bedroom wall as a child, it was a real treat.

The cast of Pinocchio on Ice includes many award-winning professional skaters.

The title role is played by Bertalan Zakany, who is a championship Hungarian skater. Geppetto is played by Szabolcs Vidrai who came fourth in the skating Junior World Cup.

Diana Poth, who came fourth in the European Skating Cup, Patricia Pavuk and members of the Hungarian National Cup formation skating team also have roles.

The team of technicians was yesterday due to arrive in Norwich from Hungary to start building the temporary rink at the Norfolk Showground.

The ice is made from a mixture of water and glycol and it takes four days to set up.

Euroice has been staging ice shows for almost a decade.

The show has been choreographed by Ilona Berecz, Jerena Ipakjan and Mihály Kiss.

Pinocchio on Ice is a huge project - in all, the crew will be made up of about 80 people - including the 30 skaters and 16 technicians from Hungary and has been many months in the planning.

Their entourage includes their own cook, two full-time hairdressers and two wardrobe assistants to co-ordinate the numerous quick costume changes between scenes.

There have been a few one-off public performances in Hungary during rehearsals, but it was developed with the intention of staging it on Norwich at Christmas, which will essentially be its premiere before it goes on tour in mainland Europe.

After its run at the Norfolk Showground there are plans to take it to Denmark, Austria and France.

It is the first Christmas ice show that promoter Tony Hopkins, a man who has worked in light entertainment for many years, has put on.

“I've put on several shows in Norwich over the years - I've brought Chipperfield's Circus a couple of times, Billy Smart's Circus and Circus of the Streets, which includes BMX stunts, came to the festival in Earlham Park,” he says.

“I helped to organise some aspects of the Holiday on Ice show when it came to the Showground in Norwich a couple of years ago - the marketing and box office - so I guess that's what gave me the idea of putting on an ice show in Norwich.”

Mr Hopkins says that Euroice, headed by former performer Veronica Benedek, contacted him because it was interested in putting on a show in the UK.

“They had been touring in other European countries, but hadn't been over here,” he says.

“They suggested bringing their ice show based on the Nutcracker Suite, but I didn't think that would be quite so appealing to audiences at Christmas. So I suggested doing a pantomime on ice,” he says.

They settled on adapting the much-loved story of Pinocchio.

The show is based on the Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, which was first published as a book for children in 1883.

Not only has Pinocchio been adapted for film and TV many times in various languages, including the well-known Disney film, it has also inspired Japanese anime cartoons such as the character of Astroboy and the film AI (Artificial Intelligence) where an android with emotions longs to be real.

Mr Hopkins and Euroice started talking about the possibility of staging the show at Easter.

“Euroice came over to the UK to talk to me about it and they started developing the show in May.”

It was a new departure for Mr Hopkins.

“I have promoted mainly circuses for 20 years and I have brought some of the biggest names in the circus to Norwich,” he says.

“I focus on circuses because that's my first interest - I have been interested in them since I was a boy. We have done some pantomimes, but this year we are focusing all our energies on the ice show.

“Looking at the bookings we have already had, people are coming from quite a wide area - one coach trip is coming all the way from Colchester, which is quite pleasing to know.

“The ice show is just another step up - trying something different,” he says.

Pinocchio on Ice opens at the Royal Norfolk Showground on Tuesday, December 20. Showtimes are: December 20-23 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Christmas Eve and Boxing Day 2pm and 5pm, December 27-30 2.30pm and 7.30pm, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day 2pm and 5pm and January 2 and 3 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Seats in the front grandstand cost £14 for adults, £10 children. Side grandstand tickets cost £12 for adults and £9 for children. For bookings contact 0870 444 1505, website

www.pinocchio-on-ice.com

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