Society: West End & Fringe
Venue: Charing Cross Theatre. The Arches, Villiers Street, London
Credits: Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Book by Roger O. Hirson. Produced by Adam Blanshay Productions, Edward Johnson and Steven M. Levy.
Author: Caroline Jenner
Performance Date: 05/07/2021
Pippin at the Charing Cross Theatre
Caroline Jenner | 06 Jul 2021 10:16am
All photos: Edward Johnson
Pippin, the eldest son of Charlemagne, doesn’t know what to do with his life. Having completed his education, he meets a travelling circus troupe, who encourage him through his endeavours to overcome his despair and find fulfilment. He tries joining his father and brother on a crusade against the Visigoths, but baulks at the rape and pillage; he attempts hedonism at the encouragement of his rather racy Grandmother; leads the people in rebellion and rules as a fair and just king; explores the idyllic pastoral life with the widowed Catherine, her son Theo and his pet duck and ultimately he is encouraged, by the circus ringmaster, to make the final sacrifice and immolate himself. Doesn’t really sound like a bundle of laughs and sadly Pippin himself has no redeeming qualities to make you like him. In fact, I would quite happily slap him and tell him to either get a grip or get a psychiatrist, because he really is an annoying, whinging brat.
Director Steven Dexter’s production is set in the 1960s, with minimal props and a simplicity of staging that provides space for a high-octane performance exuding energy and enthusiasm. The concept works well, with ‘flower-power’ hope for a better future present in the set dressing and costumes. Paper fans and dream catchers, joss sticks and patchwork greet the audience on arrival, while a solitary Pippin sits at the side of the stage awaiting the start of the show.
The narrative pushes the piece forward at a rapid pace, with the audience constantly being reminded that we are watching a story within a story told by the circus players. The fourth wall is broken with abandon and the audience at the Charing Cross Theatre revelled in the sing-a-long song sheet, the encouragement to clap and even cheered the announcement to turn off their mobile phones and wear a face mask. This was one group of people who were keen to return to theatre and enjoy themselves.
A talented cast of three musicians and eight actors bounce their way around the stage, beautifully choreographed by Nick Winston, the dances radiate acrobatic vitality Of particular note are Genevieve Nicole as Berthe, whose advice to Pippin to enjoy your youth, and all the pleasures the senses can afford, is followed by her number ‘No Time At All’, where she has the audience like putty in her hands, and Daniel Krikler as Charlemagne, whose character is perhaps the most likeable with his constant denying of requests for his subjects and his prayer for strength, understandable when you are responsible for uniting half of Europe!
Immersive and pacy this show is something that will welcome you back to theatre with its liveliness and warmth. However, despite the clever transposition to the 60s, fantastic casting and amazing choreography, the premise of Steven Schwartz’s ‘Pippin’ leaves a lot to be desired.