Interview with Actor Eliza Blair on Pinocchio at Hull Truck Theatre

Actor Eliza Blair on Pinocchio at Hull Truck Theatre (1)

We caught up with actor Eliza Blair, to find out how rehearsals are going for this year’s festive production of the much-loved classic tale Pinocchio (Friday 24 November – Sunday 31 December). Discover the inspiration behind the character, the story and what it means to be brave, truthful, and selfless in their journey to becoming real.

Find out why families should be excited about Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Pinocchio, how British Sign Language (BSL) is integrated in this year’s production and why this time of year is a special time for families, friends and neighbours to come together to share in the values of community, togetherness and home.

Q. Why should audiences, and especially young children, be excited about seeing Pinocchio at Hull Truck Theatre?

Belly laughs, clowning, magic, animals, tunes that will get stuck into your head until the new year…and did I mention belly laughs? Every single moment in this show is thrilling and unexpected, stuffed full of endless details and surprises to discover. There is something for people of every age, including a heart-warming message about self-love, community acceptance, and empathy that will resonate with everyone—from young kids learning to navigate the world, to grown-ups who need a gentle reminder. I sometimes wish I could sit in the audience and watch the show myself! This cast is mind-blowing, talented and creative, and I leave every day with my face and stomach hurting from smiling and laughing so hard at everything they do.

Q. What makes this version of Pinocchio’s story different to the version we might already know and love?

Pinocchio has often been portrayed as selfish, petulant, and needy (one translation of the book literally says Pinocchio “is lazy, mischievous, irresponsible, profoundly egotistical, and easily led astray”). And, sure, they do at times behave in those ways—but that’s not who Pinocchio is. Our version seeks to look beyond those descriptors and discover what is going on inside Pinocchio because of what is going on around them. We have all experienced the confusion and frustration of information overload when entering a new environment; Pinocchio, like a newborn, is experiencing everything for the first time, yet is expected to know it all. There’s a real tenderness in the heart of this show, amidst all the hilarious and sometimes scary antics, that recognizes why Pinocchio may not always behave the way others expect them to. There’s also a greater consideration of what “real” means. To us, being “real” doesn’t mean being made of bones and blood, as many versions settle on, and it doesn’t mean looking, behaving, or identifying like everyone around you. Instead, it captures a more core essence of humanity and our capacity to care deeply for one another.

Actor Eliza Blair on Pinocchio at Hull Truck Theatre (3)

Q. Pinocchio will take audiences on a journal of self-discovery, do you identify with Pinocchio at all and how will you bring truth to your character?

Pinocchio is born with no negative self-perception; it is the world that puts these ideas of being “different”, “not real”, and even “scary” on them, making them feel strange and inadequate. Like Pinocchio, many of us as kids knew innately who we were with no self-judgement but were taught what is “good/bad” as we grew up and may have lost some of our natural love and sense of self. That is especially true for those of us who do not fit easily into boxes that have been designated by society as the default (white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical, etc.). But reconnecting with my inner child to discover and embrace what is true and beautiful about me to me made me more alert and alive to the world around me than ever, increasing my capacity to love and care for others as well. Pinocchio becomes “real” when they behave with care toward others and themselves, and the same is true for all of us, regardless of our identities. Mine and Pinocchio’s identities are our superpowers, though I don’t have the literal superpower of being made of wood (spoiler alert).

Q. How do you communicate with the deaf character, Blue Spirit? Do all the cast use BSL?

Because Blue Spirit is the one who first endows Pinocchio with consciousness, we discovered that there is an innate understanding between Pinocchio and Blue Spirit, as if Pinocchio is, in some ways, an extension of Blue Spirit. Therefore, their communication is fluid and suited to the moment—sometimes they speak, sometimes they sign, sometimes they can understand each other with just a look. It also becomes quite a beautiful testament to their special relationship; both Pinocchio and Blue Spirit are “different” from the rest of the group in their own ways, which affords them a unique understanding of one another in ways that the others simply cannot have. There’s another deep connection between Blue Spirit and the MC, who acts in many parts of the show as Blue Spirit’s interpreter to the rest of the group as they work together to lead this troupe of actors in telling this story through every possible form of communication, each as expressive as the last and suited to the moment and relationships being played out: BSL, spoken English, song, physical acting, puppetry, and more.

Q. Pinocchio learns about the value of family, what do you think makes a home?

To me, “home” is not a fixed point; home is the people who create it. Home is with the people who truly see you, who recognize how beautiful and unbreakable you are, to borrow a phrase from the show. Some people find this in their biological or legal families, others find this in their chosen family (an idea that Pinocchio, Gepetto, and Blue Spirit embody perfectly). Pinocchio seems to share this concept of home; they are constantly trying to get “home,” but what they really mean is that they are trying to get back to Gepetto, the person who loves them the most, who sees all their differences and loves them not in spite of but with respect for their uniqueness.

Actor Eliza Blair on Pinocchio at Hull Truck Theatre (2)

Q. What else can we expect to learn from the story of Pinocchio?

Parents are heroes! In addition to Gepetto’s well-known journey across the world and under the ocean to rescue his child, there’s an interesting parent-child dynamic between Blue Spirit and Pinocchio in our production. Pinocchio relies on Blue Spirit in many ways, but they can also be rebellious against her. Many kids feel an impulse to go against their parents or teachers when trying to forge their own identity, but as we mature, we begin to understand and appreciate our parents’ lessons. Pinocchio goes on that same journey over time with Blue Spirit.

Q. Coming from LA, are your festive traditions different to the UK?

I can’t imagine that it is ever warm enough in the UK to go for a Christmas Day dog walk in shorts and a t-shirt like we do in California, and I’ve never heard anyone in LA start planning their Christmas dinner four months in advance like I overheard multiple people in the UK doing on the bus… but aside from our distinct climates and planning abilities, Californians and Brits all seem to want the same things at the holidays: time with loved ones, belly-warming food, and some lovely twinkle light displays down the high street.

Q. What is your favourite memory of Christmas from years gone by and does the show make you excited for Christmas?

My favourite holiday memories all revolve around storytelling in different forms: going to the winter ballet every year and crying my eyes out for no particular reason other than that it’s beautiful; heading to the cinema each Christmas Day with my parents to catch one or two new films; standing beside my grandmother in the kitchen as she shared the story and recipe of the special English Tea Rings she always made for friends and family, a tradition my mom and I have carried forward. There’s nothing that connects people more than sharing stories, and connection is what the holidays are about to me. I am incredibly excited and honoured to be a part of many other people’s holiday traditions by sharing this one, full of joy, heart, compassion and laughs!

Tickets for Pinocchio are now on-sale and available to buy online and via Hull Truck Theatre’s Box Office. Recommended age guidance is 7+ and group booking discounts of 10% are available for parties of 8+. For more information, visit:
images: Ian Hodgson

More info