Saturday 19 September 2020

Pippin @ Garden Theatre

Pippin @ Garden Theatre

The plot of Pippin is surprisingly fitting for lockdown life in 2020. As we sit indoors watching the world implode, it's easy to empathise with the son of Charlamagne. Pippin is seeking enlightenment (a lofty aspiration): a purpose, a fulfilling life. The lesson learned is to live in the moment and appreciate the ordinary, something we're all forced to do right now.

Originating on Broadway in 1972 - with music from Stephen Schwartz, book by Roger O. Hirson, and direction from Bob Fosse - the musical is presented as short fragments of revue that give snippets of an overarching narrative. It's an absurd coming of age story, framed by a fourth wall breaking narrator (Tsemaye Bob-Egbe), with Pippin developing from naivety to spoilt brat and finally enlightenment, rebelling against the script (fate? religion?) in the process.

Despite its themes of war, despair, patricide and a climax that glorifies suicide, Pippin is a surprisingly joyous and uplifting watch. The ensemble sing of magic and urge Pippin to revel in simple pleasures (mainly sexual); there are amusing scenes with Pippin's family and a tragi-comic moment with a duck;  a heartwarming love story rounds it out. Part Candide and part Hair, this production led by director Steven Dexter revels in its 70s heritage, with vibrant tye-died costumes and choreography from Nick Winston that turns war into a sensual dance by way of Fosse.

Schwartz's psychedlic score is full of glorious harmonies and demanding solos, but the cast of West End performers rise to the challenge. As Pippin, Ryan Anderson is a dynamic performer with a high tenor; Joanne Clifton amuses as Pippin's grandma; and Bob-Egbe leads the ensemble with some impressive vocal runs. And even with minimal instrumentation, the score is full of colour.

It is a production worthy of a larger venue, the outdoor Garden Theatre bringing obvious challenges like sound levels and road noise. Yet the cast cope well with projection, directing their lines to both sides of the audience around the traverse stage so nothing is missed. What's more, they're undeterred by us masked audience members facelessly reacting.

In another time, this production would be performed with a larger cast, full orchestration and an extravagant set design. But even without these trappings, the core of the show is fantastically enjoyable. It feels good to be back in a theatre.


Watch: Pippin runs at the Garden Theatre until 11th October.

Pippin @ Garden Theatre