Thursday, 5 April 2018

'Pippin' at the Southwark Playhouse

I went to see 'Pippin' at Southwark Playhouse a couple of weeks ago, the day after returning from snowy Boston, and it helped me to stave off the jet lag. I didn't realise I was seeing it in its last week until I tried to book tickets to see it again - yes, it was that good. I saw a computer game themed version of 'Pippin' full of lasers and rock guitar seven years ago at the Menier Chocolate Factory but had forgotten much of the story so this version was almost like seeing it anew.

The first hurdle to get over is that Pippin is the son of Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor. As if the heir to the throne anywhere would be called Pippin. Yes, it's a problem for me. Then there's the daft story-line of Pippin trying to find himself and his role in life which was all very late '60s/early '70s, from joining one of his dad's wars to working on a farm. Then there's the conceit of the Lead Player talking to the audience and introducing scenes that she was also in as well as directing us towards and it's all very odd. But it somehow works and draws you in. Hippy-dippy at one level, rock musical at another and experimental theatre at yet another, all rolled up together to take us on a a very strange journey. It's very of its time and uses some trademarked Bob Fosse dance moves but it somehow works.

Some of the bits I loved were Charlemagne being played with a broad Welsh accent and his queen having a Glaswegian accent, Pippin's grandma encouraging him to have lots of girls, the Fosse moves, and the theme song of 'Corner of the Sky' (I have a great version by Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield). I also liked the simple staging that was very effective. Something I really did;t like was Pippin's wide-necked grey jumper with a few sequins that reminded me of something your grandma might buy from Marks and Sparks - a horrid affair.

This new version of the show was developed by Hope Mills Theatre in Manchester and first performed there before coming to Southwark Playhouse and good on 'em for this revival. Great staging, great lighting and fun costumes (other than Pippin's jumpa of course). I loved all the cleverness of the staging, like lifting the stars painted on the stage to reveal lights, lots of little tricks and turns kept me engaged. Of course, the work itself by Stephen Schwartz deserves mention even if it does sometimes seem to get lost in its own complexities (I'm still puzzling about Charlemagne coming back from the dead after Pippin kills his dad in a revolution and the ending when Pippin refuses to dive into a vat of fire that reminded me of The Beatles' "Mr Kite').

I thought the cast were all very good with special shout outs to Genevieve Nicole as the Lead Player, Jonathan Carlton as Pippin, Mairi Barclay as the queen/grandma and Tessa Cadler as the farmer's wife.Well done also to Jonathan O'Boyle as director, Maeve Black for costumes and set, Aaron J Dootson for lighting and William Whelton for the choreography. Thanks should go to lots of others, of course, for bringing this together in a great show that was a joy to see. I hope I don't have to wait another seven years to see this show. I think a big stage version is due next.

No comments: