Pippin is a musical by Stephen Schwartz and Roger O’Hirson and is (very) loosely based on the life of Pippin, son of Charlemagne. It is more a general coming-of-age story, where Pippin tries to find his place in the world and searches for fulfillment. Schwartz’s score is quite poppy and there are some very catchy songs in it.
The staging is very futuristic. The musical technically begins once you leave the bar area when you walk past Pippin staring into a computer screen before entering the auditorium, which turns out to be the inside of his computer. The Leading Player (Matt Rawle) and his troupe guide us through the story, which is structured like a computer game, where Pippin, as new member of the troupe, has to pass each level to get to the next one. The choreography (based on the original Broadway choreography by Bob Fosse) is exciting and I loved the way they used screens and projections and especially the non-solid walls. It made for a very intense theatrical experience.
Harry Hepple makes a great Pippin, he’s got a lovely voice. Ian Kelsey as his father Charlemagne is as authoritative as you’d expect him to be. Matt Rawle oozes charisma as the Leading Player, but I found him quite hard to understand sometimes, amazing voice though. Louise Gold as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe won the audience over with her karaoke-style song. I liked Frances Ruffelle as Pippin’s stepmother Fastrada, but I found her a bit wooden sometimes. David Page plays her violent and not-so-clever son Lewis, another very strong performance. Carly Bawden is a very sweet and gently Catherine with a wonderful voice, and I also liked Stuart Neal as her son Theo. Ben Bunce, Bob Harms, Holly James, Anabel Kutay, David McMullan and Kate Tydman are all amazing dancers. It’s just an incredibly strong cast.
I found this production very dark and disturbing. There are some more light-hearted moments in it, but the dark theme prevails throughout the musical. It’s probably one of those productions that people either love or hate, there were several audience member who didn’t return after the interval, but I firmly belong to the first group. It’s one of the most exciting shows I’ve seen this year and I’m looking forward to seeing it again later in its run.
Pippin runs until the 25th February 2011 at the Menier Chocolate Factory and you can book tickets online or by phone 020 7378 1713.
One word of warning though: The auditorium was/is incredibly hot!