Hidden away in a Victorian mill in Ancoats, Manchester, is the Hope Mill Theatre, the brainchild of partners Joseph Houston and William Whelton, and a relatively new and welcome addition to the Manchester theatre scene. It provides a perfect setting for Stephen Shwartz and Roger O. Hirson’s 1972 musical PIPPIN. Maeve Black’s excellent design utilises the space to create an intimate playing area with the audience on three sides and which conjures up a sense of vaudeville – colourful and brash complemented by her costume design for the travelling players and the principal characters in this medieval tale of a young man’s search for a meaning in life. Aaron J. Dootson’s lighting design is sharp and atmospheric with William Welton’s dynamic choreography and Zach Flis’ band adding to the list of creatives under Jonathan O’Boyle’s stunning and inventive direction.
The Leading Player of the troupe of wandering performers, Genevieve Nicole, is outstandingly sassy, with Jonathan Carlton’s confused, troubled and ultimately sensitive Pippin perfectly cast in the role. On his journey to find a life that’s ‘extraordinary’ and his bit of his ‘corner of the sky’ he attempts to take on roles that, ultimately, don’t suit him – a soldier, like his step-brother, Lewis (Bradley Judge) and after murdering his father, Charlemagne (Rhidian Marc) the role of King, but that proves unfulfilling also. Mairi Barclay, in the dual roles of Pippin’s ambitious and somewhat risqué step-mother and his entertainingly and philosophical grandmother, Berthe, is highly entertaining. The advice is to ‘live in the moment’.
Not necessarily an easy thing to do but when Pippin relinquishes the throne and sets off again he comes across a widow, Catherine, (Tessa Kadler) and her young son (Scott Hayward), running their farm, and for a year he thinks he is has found what he has been looking for but all that he has embraced is routine and stability which are not enough.
In the meantime the Leading Player has promised the audience a climax ‘you’ll remember for the rest of your lives’ with Pippin the star player. But that’s not quite how it all works out.
This is a five star production from start to finish. The cast is superb. The singing and choreography, the comedy, pace and slickness of the performance is breath-taking at times.
Hope Mill Theatre is a wonderfully exciting addition to Manchester. Whilst many touring productions of large scale musicals are highly professional, slick and polished what seems to be lacking, in my experience, is soul. This Pippin has soul a-plenty.
Until the 23rd September