“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.