Theatre review - Pippin at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
PUBLISHED: 15:48 13 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:48 13 September 2017
Pippin, currently playing at Manchester's new Hope Mill Theatre, is both joyously funny and intensely moving, all wrapped up in a simply brilliant song and dance package, says Kate Houghton.
Pippin, currently playing at Manchester’s new Hope Mill Theatre, is both joyously funny and intensely moving, all wrapped up in a simply brilliant song and dance package, says Kate Houghton.
Pippin is unlike anything I have seen before; a comedy, a tragedy, a study of depression and the search for meaning in life - and an utterly brilliant more-than-a-nod to the risqué caberet clubs of pre-war Berlin. It’s musical theatre for grown-ups, not a Disney moment or hint of saccharine sweetness to be found.
To simplify the story (really, really simplify) we have a travelling troupe of circus-cum-cabaret performers who recruit a young man to play the part of Pippin, heir to the great Charlemagne, 9th century Emperor of Europe – though this is where any accurate historical reference ends. Pippin seeks the meaning of his life: is it war or women, to rule or to run away? Trying everything, he eventually settles into fierce depression before being rescued by mundanity. It seems his destiny is not to be great, but to be… okay.
The tale is told through the interaction between Pippin and the Leading Player, a Master of Ceremonies type, played here by the fabulously fierce Genevieve Nicole, kick-ass gorgeous in black knee boots and lace up corset. This, and the jazz hands, big feather fans and choreography (brilliantly done by William Whelton) a respectful reference to Bob Fosse, who directed both the original stage version of Pippin (Broadway, 1972) and the iconic film Cabaret, with Liza Minelli (also 1972)
Nicole is truly brilliant; just slightly sinister, a little bit dominatrix, she’s both exciting and chilling and wow, what a voice! Pippin is played by virtual newcomer Jonathan Carlton, who gives a brilliant performance as this bewildered young man seeking big answers and finding none.
Indeed, the entire cast is awesome, but special mention must be given to Mairi Barclay, who plays both Pippin’s wildly Glaswegian step-mother and ancient, somewhat posher Grandmother with great panache and a real talent for accents!
The songs are grand – and there’s even an audience sing-along moment, led by Mairi Barclay in her more elderly persona – and the dancing is marvellous. The band, a nine-strong ensemble set at the rear of the stage, just in view, is brilliant and the set simple and clever. The stage pushes out catwalk fashion, with the audience seated either side and at the front, offering every member excellent views of the entire proceedings.
There’s not much left of this run, but if you can find a ticket, grab it – it’s an experience you’ll ponder on for a long, long time.