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Pippin

Pippin

★★★★

Charing Cross Theatre

Pippin

Pippin

Charing Cross Theatre

Reviewed – 5th July 2021

★★★★

 

“The pace of the production is unrelenting, and the hit list of songs comes thick and fast”

 

There is ‘Magic to Do’ in the round, underneath the arches at Charing Cross Theatre with this new production of Stephen Schwartz’s classic musical Pippin. Director Steven Dexter takes on his fourth production of the show, developing his version from last autumn at the Garden Theatre.

Performed by a versatile ensemble of eight, Pippin (Ryan Anderson) – with shades of Peer Gynt – goes off on a life journey in search of success and fulfilment, aided and abetted by a troupe of travelling hippie players who may, or may not, have Pippin’s best interests at heart. Always by Pippin’s side is the scheming, snake-hipped Leading Player (Ian Carlyle) who, when not centre stage, can be found observing close by, conducting the band, directing the lighting changes and marshalling his players. He leads Pippin a merry dance intending it to culminate in a sensational Grand Finale – both the show’s and Pippin’s – if fate or love does not intervene.

The set is colourful and vibrant with copious suns and flowers, the circular stage area reminiscent of a big top circus ring. This is 1967, the year of the Summer of Love, and flower-power is in its ascendancy. As we take our seats, the fragrance of incense in the air, Pippin – peace and love symbols embroidered onto his jeans – sits alone, brooding. We hear a soundtrack of sixties songs – The Beach Boys, Cream – interspersed with news bulletins of progress of the Vietnam War. But as the action begins, the period feel becomes less important. This story is timeless.

The pace of the production is unrelenting, and the hit list of songs comes thick and fast – ‘Corner of the Sky’, ‘Glory’, ‘Morning Glow’ ‘Kind of Woman’. The two-piece band is supported by the ensemble with a rhythmic drive of finger clicks, foot stamps and the beating of their own cajons. Together in song and dance they re-enact Pippin’s life, each member taking the role of a significant other in the story: his father, mother, grandmother, lover. And as each player takes centre stage, they are treated to a drum roll from their fellows. Special mention is due here for Genevieve Nicole as Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother, who so nearly steals the show whilst leading the audience in a sing along of ‘No Time at All’. But everyone excels: the words are clear, the singing powerful, the variety of dance styles exhilarating.

But it is Pippin and the Leading Player who are the equal stars of this show. Anderson is sympathetic in his portrayal of Pippin as his character swings from vulnerability to exuberance and then through apathy to tenderness when he allows himself to find love with his Catherine. And his energy is balanced by Carlyle’s control in showing the Player’s cynicism, persuasion, and drive to produce the spectacular. Together the couple command the stage, and no more than during their duet ‘On the Right Track’.

The production is family-friendly with no severed limbs or decapitated heads. And the sexual hijinks are more sensual and implied than explicit, with no more than a hint of bump-and-grind.

The work of Stephen Schwartz will be well represented this year on the London stage with Wicked, The Prince of Egypt, The Children of Eden and Godspell all upcoming but the run begins here with this fine and most enjoyable revival of his first big success.

 

 

Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Edward Johnson

 


Pippin

Charing Cross Theatre until 14th August

 

Previously reviewed this year by Phillip:
The Money | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Animal Farm | ★★★★ | Royal & Derngate | May 2021
Trestle | ★★★ | Jack Studio Theatre | June 2021
Romeo and Juliet | ★★★★ | Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre | June 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Rotterdam

Rotterdam
★★★★

Brighton Theatre Royal & UK Tour

Rotterdam

Rotterdam

Brighton Theatre Royal

Reviewed – 8th April 2019

★★★★

 

“Jon Brittain’s script is a weaving explosion”

 

Alice and Fiona have been living in Rotterdam for seven years. They were only supposed to be there for one. It’s nearly New Year’s Eve and Alice is composing an email, and redrafting it, and spell checking it, and redrafting it again. She is trying to come out to her parents as a lesbian. But just as she is about to press send, her partner Fi delivers some unexpected news. Fi is a man, has always been a man, just wants to “stop trying to be a woman”. He asks to be called Adrian, the name his parents would’ve given him if they’d known he was a boy when he was born. The two characters spiral on different journeys, Adrian coming to terms with his gender identity, with the violence of being misgendered and the possibilities of hormones and surgery. Meanwhile, Alice questions her sexuality all over again, as she begins the process of accepting Adrian, and herself.

Jon Brittain’s script is a weaving explosion, each scene launching into the next (also thanks to Donnacadh O’Briain’s energised direction). The relationships between our four characters are gradually revealed, connecting them in different and surprising ways.

The set, designed by Ellan Parry, shows a black and white Amsterdam, splattered with pink, vivid purple, neon light, even covered with blue balloons at one point in the play. It isn’t anything hugely exciting but it doesn’t need to be. It allows for the different places the play takes us to, to be created, and for the story to be told. The mirrored door, throwing light across the audience every time it is opened is particularly lovely. Cleverly, even the details of the set, with backlit gendered toilet signs above a bar, are a constant reminder of the weight of gender, and the way we perceive it, in society. The fireworks thrown out into the audience – or seemingly so – are a really effective moment of lighting design from Richard Williamson.

The play is punctuated by some incredibly powerful and emotional images, but it is also laced with humour, and the actors find the balance between these moments really well. In fact the cast is strong all round. Lucy Jane Parkinson has a brilliant presence onstage, humourous at first, strong to the point of near aggression, deeply vulnerable when Adrian phones his mum to come out to her for the first time. A vivid performance of need and strength. Bethan Cullinane’s Alice is wonderfully played. Still closeted and unable to let go, she meets the vibrant Lelani (Ellie Morris) who takes her to parties and smokes weed with her. There is so much humour and life in this journey, and it is delicately undercut by Alice’s own struggles with her sexuality, and her frequently cruel way of processing Adrian’s transition. Elijah W Harris takes a couple of scenes to become grounded in the role of Josh, but when he does he is immediately likeable, and the relationship between Josh and Adrian in particular, feels warm and genuine.

This is a play through which you will laugh and cry. It discusses gender, sexuality, family, love and Rotterdam, and is delivered by strong, honest performances from a talented cast.

 

Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography courtesy I AM Marketing

 


Rotterdam

Brighton Theatre Royal until 10th April then UK Tour continues

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
This is Elvis | ★★★ | July 2018
Salad Days | ★★★ | September 2018
Rocky Horror Show | ★★★★ | December 2018
Benidorm Live! | ★★★★ | February 2019
Noughts And Crosses | ★★ | March 2019

 

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