GT's review of a musical about a boy who doesn't know what to do with his life.
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It took us a couple of songs to get into this, as the first few numbers are a sharp slap in the face as you adjust to the sound and aesthetics of Pippin. It's modern and futuristic, if your vision of the future is from the 80s. Once you sit back and accept that this is deliberate, you're in for a treat. The outfits are Mad Max-esque and dystopian, and perfectly compliment the experimental staging; with a teenage bedroom promenade entrance, and a set that it both a blank canvas for a whole range of fantastically complex animations, and a catacomb of entrances for performers to literally pop out of the walls.
Right from the start the Bob Fosse choreography begins to razzle dazzle, and even a heavy metal rock instrumental makes sense as the oncoming of war leaves your head spinning, as there is so much going on in such a relatively small space. Holy James and David Page shine in little Fosse tap-like interludes, pushing extreme facial expressions and comedy timing.
There are brilliant moments of cutting through the sentimentality of musicals "You don't get to do a song!" or "Damn, that was my best number...", and distancing the audience through a sing along, or the frequent direct audience interaction. Yet there were still moments of schmaltzy knowing Musicals-Emotion in numbers like Love Song, if you were going along for Stephen Schwartz's Wicked credentials.
There was not a weak link in the cast, as every member carried their songs, from the show stealing light relief of No Time At All (Louise Gold's brilliantly played salt of the mother earth character) or the consistently smug MC (Matt Rawle) through to the fabulously trashy Mother (Frances Ruffelle) and her incestuous relationship with her hot son. Harry Hepple, playing the title role, is perfectly cast and deserves extra kudos for still being in character throughout the interval.
It's a brave revival, simply because it is a pretty odd musical; straddling the realms of beta-version virtual reality, lofty chapters in life, unbridled ambition ground down by banal romance, and err, a petrol can and a lighter. But its eccentric charm has been embraced in the production. Its warmth, intimacy (you will get stared at) and bizarreness make you feel like you are watching an exclusive Off-Broadway production in a back street in Manhattan, that you will never ever get the chance to see again. We're very glad we took that chance.
Pippin is at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 25 February, menierchocolatefactory.com.
Photo: Tristram Kenton