The Strictly star shines in this quirky lo-fi reimagining of Stephen Schwartz’s 1972 musical.

It’s fair to say that 2020’s been quite an unusual year, but we never imagined we’d be heading to Eagle in Vauxhall for a theatre review. On arrival we were advised to wear our masks, register for test and trace, and were given liberal doses of hand sanitiser, after which audience members perched at the bar in their respective social bubbles. Ice cream was available. It was very much not like our last visit to Eagle at all.

The set up works well. The outside area to the rear of the bar has been completely transformed; a nicely-lit gazebo has been erected and a traverse stage created, with the audience sat on benches and stools either side. Entering and exiting is staggered to avoid crowding, and there’s no proper interval – although there is a brief pause for a comfort break, during which time bar staff zoom around the audience taking orders.

The show itself is good fun. For those unfamiliar, Pippin is a 1972 musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and book by Roger O Hirson. It focuses on the lives of our protagonist Pippin and his father Charlemagne – both based on real individuals from the Middle Ages but the story is entirely fabricated and, frankly, quite ludicrous. The audience really needs to suspend its disbelief to enjoy the show – but enjoy it we did.

It’s very much a pared-back production, with six performers and limited use of staging and props. However, what the players have at their disposal is utilised creatively; we particularly enjoyed a quirky choreographed sequence involving a quartet of cajóns. Strictly star Joanne Clifton delights in this breezy production in a couple of entertaining roles. Whether she’s playing Pippin’s stepmother or grandmother she’s a joy to watch, displaying some genuinely entertaining characterisation and an occasional hilarious ad lib.

While Joanne may steal the spotlight there’s certainly no weak link in the cast. In particular, Harry Francis puts in an energetic and wonderfully daft performance as Pippin’s half-brother Lewis, while Tsemaye Bob-Egbe is captivating as the lead player in the troupe, playing the role with a real poise and grace, and displaying impressively powerful vocals.

While we thoroughly enjoyed our evening with Pippin, it is worth noting that elements of this 1972 show haven’t aged particularly well. Some of the humour feels dated, as do some of the attitudes, and while many of the jokes land there are a fair few that fall flat. It’s not a problem in the overall scheme of things, and it’s nice to see that there are a few modern touches and references here and there, but we wish they’d gone a bit further in making it feel more contemporary.

Minor criticisms aside this is still a great fun night out. There are plenty of enjoyable performances here, and it’s really lovely to be back seeing live theatre. It’s only on for a few weeks so we’d recommend popping down to Eagle while you can.

GAY TIMES gives Pippin – 4/5

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