Home » London Theatre Reviews » Pippin at Charing Cross Theatre | Review

Pippin at Charing Cross Theatre | Review

Just two musicians accompany a company of eight actors (a considerably smaller cast relative to a different production I saw at Southwark Playhouse in 2018). The show comes in at a little less than the billed two hours and twenty minutes (including interval), and the slightly abbreviated form works well. The narrative arc, strangely enough, doesn’t work as well as the substantially abbreviated form performed at the pop-up Garden Theatre in between the lockdowns of 2020 did, at least not for me. That ninety-minute version was the first time I managed to get my head around the story without difficulty or speculation.

Pippin - Credit Edward Johnson.
Pippin – Credit Edward Johnson.

The volume has been cranked up for this run at the Charing Cross Theatre (from where I was sat, the rumble of the deep level London Underground lines couldn’t be heard once), but I’m happy for the cast to be miked up. Over at the Garden Theatre, they had to compete against the patter of raindrops falling on a makeshift roof, noise from the venue’s bar and passing Vauxhall traffic, unamplified. With more space here, Nick Winston’s choreography gets much more of a chance to shine. Ryan Anderson in the lead role of Pippin displays some incredible dancing skills, particularly in the second half, and has excellent stage presence.

Ian Carlyle as Leading Player has the kind of assured singing voice I would happily listen to for hours, whilst often commanding more authority than Daniel Krikler’s King Charles (though to be fair, there is more control involved in leading the narrative than there is in leading a kingdom within the said narrative in any event). Catherine (Natalie McQueen) gets some harsh treatment (by modern standards), openly, repeatedly and loudly criticised for ‘errors’ (inverted commas mine) – which act as a subliminal commentary on some undesirable behaviours that exist in some workplaces. There is some conviction in her expressions of grief and a need to keep going despite encountering tragedy in her life.

Genevieve Nicole’s Berthe steals the show in the first half in ‘No Time At All’, with breaches of the fourth wall that were both pleasant and appreciated. Pippin remains, however, a rather strange show, and there are moments when one simply engages in a suspension of disbelief. “When the King makes budget cuts, the arts are the first to go,” Pippin concludes with a wry and knowing smile.

Politically speaking, though, the show is (perhaps surprisingly) right-wing. There’s about a minute, if that, of socialism before Pippin decides that actually, it would be better to maintain the status quo. I did wonder on entry to the theatre whether I was actually about to see a revival of Hair: the stage is very, very colourful – kaleidoscopic, even. Such was the density of the stage smoke before the show started that one would have been forgiven for thinking this was the end result of every character smoking weed. The set (David Shields) is fairly elaborate, with rows and rows of colourful lights (Aaron J. Dootson) hanging from the stage’s ceiling. Fortunately, I found the production sufficiently engaging such that I didn’t find the time to estimate, let alone count, quite how many lights there were.

I note they’ve retained the tambourine crown from the Garden Theatre run, and despite the royal setting, there’s a high degree of relatability in these still uncertain times as Pippin is repeatedly perplexed about what the future holds. Presented in the round, there are occasions when the show doesn’t quite include everyone at the same time – at one point, my section of the audience was left wondering what on earth the other side were laughing at. The singing and dancing talent on display is a sight to behold in this bright and energetic production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

With an infectiously unforgettable score from four-time Grammy winner, three-time Oscar winner and musical theatre giant, Stephen Schwartz, ‘Pippin’ is the story of one young man’s journey to be extraordinary. Winner of four 2013 Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival, ‘Pippin’ continues to captivate and appeal to the young at heart throughout the world.

Set in the ‘Summer of Love’ of 1967, we follow Pippin, a young prince with extraordinary dreams and aspirations on his quest to find passion, fulfilment and meaning in a joyful and life-affirming revival.

Adam Blanshay Productions,
Edward Johnson, and Steven M. Levy
present ‘Pippin’

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Roger O. Hirson
Directed by Steven Dexter

Charing Cross Theatre
The Arches
Villiers Street
London WC2N 6NL
Wednesday 30 June – Saturday 14 August 2021
www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk

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