The concept of ‘site specific’ theatre has been gradually diluted over recent years to the extent that the phrase no longer has any reliable meaning. This production is billed as being such, presumably due to it being set in an art gallery in the same building that houses the Menier Chocolate Factory. Yes, there are pictures hung on the wall of a basement space and uncomfortable, wooden restaurant-style chairs to sit on for two hours; but come on, does that really warrant such an over-egging of the pie? Or perhaps it refers to the toilet immediately next to the gallery, the door of which could frequently be heard being slammed by patrons enjoying the interval of Abigail’s Party in the main theatre? We were handed shots of vodka while waiting for the play to start, dispensed as an accordionist played background music. Na Zdorovie! This was a nice touch, I hoped it wasn’t an ominous sign.
Based on real events, this is a fictional musical drama which tells the story of Nina, a wayward wife who brings misfortune and despair to her cuckold husband Osip after betraying him for artist Zac. Anton Chekov seems to be included as an after-thought, presented in an attempt to inject interest into an otherwise run-of-the-mill, dull tale. This tactic fails, the plot is tedious and the production lack-lustre.
Lindsey Crow best portrays her character Nina strongly, displaying her vocal ability, therein adding some light. Nicholas Gauci plays the top hat and tailed Osip with grace and finesse too, but overall this cast do not stretch the piece and that fault must lie with the director. Instead of taking the audience along with her on a flight of fantasy, this seagull’s wings are tightly clipped. Zac the lover and artist, who we oddly never see with a paintbrush, should provide spice and life but instead he mopes and laments, even stating how he is bored, depressed and lethargic as the second act begins. My sentiments exactly.
Described as a play with songs, the musical interludes do provide relief but lack the harmonies required to lift spirits. There are some nice touches in design and the costumes are a visual treat but I’m afraid it’s definitely ‘nyet’ from me.
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By Gareth Richardson @BargainTheatre
15th - 31st March 2012
The Menier Gallery, London, SE1.
“This unique production promises a Pippin like no other”.
A guarantee and a warning.
All I know of Pippin is at drama school I heard enough versions of ‘Corner of the Sky’ to last me a lifetime…and a few more hours. I had no knowledge of the show besides that song, I thought it may have been about hippies, eagles and rivers, and with much trepidation I made my way to the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Having seen Roadshow not so long ago, I was interested to see how they had transformed the space. As you step through the warehouse door you enter a small tunnel plastered with posters of sci-fi movies, anime and computer games. At the end of the tunnel sits Pippin, staring at a computer screen, flicking a zippo lighter. The set is phenomenal and before I go any further Timothy Bird should be commended for his work on this piece, from the revolving flats to the elasticated walls. We are soon aware that we have entered Pippin’s computer, he is on the outside looking in, but it’s not long before the Leading Player sucks Pippin in to join us.
Originally a troupe of actors performing a show, their newest member playing the part of Pippin. Here however, Pippin is a new player to the virtual game and must complete each level, learning a new lesson, before he can move on to the next. Inspired!
Harry Hepple plays the Northern protagonist with ease and charm, a good sense of humour and timing. Hepple’s voice is well-controlled; a smooth, jazz undertone with a rough edge to parallel the synthesised score. Ian Kelsey is the boy’s father Charlemagne, the vision of medieval leadership and authority. The Lead Player, Matt Rawle, is a cheeky, seductive character with an impressively high rock vocal, which sometimes sacrifices diction. Frances Ruffelle is the Only Way is Essex housewife and stepmother, so sexually driven that it’s easy to believe her son’s Oedipal eye. Although Ruffelle knows what she’s doing I found her slightly inhibited and aware of the audience’s presence, but it’s early days yet. One of my favourite performances came from Carly Bawden, who recently starred in Umbrellas of Cherbourg, another captivating performance. Bawden, as the widow, is sweet and gentle, her defiance of the players and love for Pippin passionately portrayed. Louise Gold’s turn as the karaoke singing grandma definitely put a smile on everyone’s face, even if some were reluctant to join in the chorus. Holly James is a prolific dancer throughout, especially during the sequinned bowler hat and cane number.
I don’t want to give too much away as I want you all to go and see it for yourselves, but when you do go buy a drink and take a fan, it’s very warm and for this the actors deserve even more praise.
Mitch Sebastian’s concept is genius. Pippin is a coming of age tale and what better way to tell that story in this era than through our generation’s obsession with virtual technology; adopting the constructs of many modern-day, fantasy, computer games, movies, projected images and Skype dates. Sebastian’s direction is stunning and his take on the original choreography is sublime.
Bob Fosse envisioned a show disturbing and surreal and were he alive to see this production today, he would be speechless.
I don’t usually do this but I was so impressed with the entire production I felt the need to include each cast member and creative:
Director / Choreographer
Orchestrations / Musical Supervisor
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22nd Nov 2011 - 25th Feb 2012
Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1.