After originally airing as a pared-down outdoor show at the Garden Theatre during the first brief reprieve of lockdown in September 2020, Stephen Dexter’s zesty production of Pippin has now transferred indoors to the Charing Cross Theatre.
The finished Broadway production of Pippin was first performed in 1972, but the counterculture vibe of the 60’s is still very apparent, and appropriately Dexter’s production is set in the ‘Summer of Love’ of 1967.
The musical uses a performance troupe led by a Machiavellian Leading Player to tell the story of Pippin, an unfulfilled Medieval young prince on his search for his purpose in life.
In his quest ‘to be extraordinary,’ Pippin tries many different things. He leads a bloody holy war, becomes a hedonist, kills his own father to be king and reformer, and finally settles down in the countryside with Catherine, a widow, and her son Theo. Yet he is still struggling to find his elusive ‘Corner of the Sky.’
Pippin is not without its issues. Both the book and music for Pippin have aged. But whereas Schwartz’s songs have survived the passage of time because they are well written, Roger O. Hirson’s book feels like a literary existential crisis itself. The message possibly seems to be that children are doomed repeat the mistakes of their elders. But it is a chaotic mixed bag that while giving immediacy to its characters, equally fails to give them any substance.
With all his soul searching Pippin should be a complex character of many dimensions. But Hirson’s Pippin is no Hamlet. His eponymous hero comes across as a self-absorbed privileged white cis male who is unable to hold onto any convictions. He is not particularly likeable. One minute he is banishing establishment trappings in favour of reform and the next he is reinstating the right wing elite.
Fortunately, Ryan Anderson’s vigorous performance as Pippin ultimately manages to override the vacuous penning of his character. Ian Carlyle is suitably malevolent as the Leading Player, while Genevieve Nicole steals the show as the elderly Berthe (and brings much needed comedy relief) with the number ‘No Time at All’. As a company the ensemble cast are impressive.
Dexter’s tight-knit direction which effectively stages the piece in the round, is complimented by Nick Winston’s endlessly enterprising choreography.
Pippin plays until Saturday 14 August.