Review: Pippin – Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester.

Pippin is a Musical by Stephen Schwarz (music and lyrics) and Roger O. Hirson (book), and comes from a plethora of experimental musical writings of the late 1960s / early 1970s when composers and writers were keen to break the moulds of tradition, and all came up with things which were remarkably similar! Brecht`s influence was
great, and Pippin is one of the most Brechtian of them all.
We see a troupe of travelling players, the leading player taking the role of controller and MC, and a “newbie” actor, his first time on stage, is brought on to play the
protagonist Pippin. [ Pippin, or more usually spelt Pepin was a real historical figure and was indeed the son of the emperor Charlemagne… although the historical
accuracies in the Musical end there! ] Pippin wants to find a greater and higher meaning to his existence and wants to be “extraordinary”. The players help or hinder
him on his seemingly predestined quest, until he finds that simple joys are what truly matter the most and as he abandons the troupe, refusing to perform his grand finale,
and choosing instead to live with his love, Catherine in the countryside, the show and the troupe`s purpose finish….. or does it?
The show is deliberately not set in any time period, and although this evening`s set and costume design &{ Maeve Black } were in the main superb – a long rectangular
raised stage with traditional prosc. arch at the back, footlights around the perimeter, and black and white Pierrot-inspired style player costumes, the whole had a very retro
feel to it. I found it a little odd then to find Pippin wearing a distinctly contemporary pair of black trousers and a grey t-shirt. But it was the lighting design in this show
which takes centre stage. An imaginative and ambitious plot by Aaron J Dootson using many specials to excellent effect.
The cast of 10 were, in the main, excellent, although I think the show needs to run for a few more performances yet before it truly finds its feet. There were some rather flat
moments in this evening`s show and it did also seem that the cast were not running on full gas all the time either. The choreography ( William Whelton ) was quite
unadventurous and it felt as if they were simply going through the motions. This could all of course be put down to the need to bed-in and hopefully this is the case. Genevieve Nicole played the role of Leading Player with a certain unique style – a cross between an S&M dominatrix and a circus ringmaster – slightly overplaying her
hand at times; whist in complete contrast, Jonathan Carlton`s Pippin was very rightly underplayed, and his easy, likeable and very watchable style impressed. The company
of players aiding and abetting Pippin`s quest were all superb, but what could easily
become the shows “showstopper” performance came from Mairi Barclay as Pippin`s
Directed by Jonathan O Boyle, the show needed more comedy and perhaps more magic, but certainly more comedy, in order for the tragic scenes to pull more punches.
We didn’t laugh anywhere near enough. The show also dragged a little this evening
too, but hopefully the pace will quicken once the cast get into their stride. I appreciated the inclusion of the Manson Trio routine, although done in front of showreel footage of trench warfare slightly took the edge of it for me, but I absolutely loved the ending. I won`t spoil it, but the great compromise struck between the
original ending and the so-called Theo Ending was pure genius!
Muscially the show was superb under the helm of Zach Flis, and the singing from all the cast stunning. I simply loved Carlton`;s falsetto.
It`s an odd show, oblique in meaning, but it is also a wonderful show, full of hope,
love and truth. This particular version of the show has the premise and ability to be a great show, but it hasn`t quite got there yet.

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