Home » London Theatre Reviews » Pippin at the Open-Air Garden Theatre | Review

Pippin at the Open-Air Garden Theatre | Review

Ryan Anderson as Pippin - Tsemaye Bob-Egbe as Leading Player - Photo Bonnie Britain Photography.
Ryan Anderson as Pippin – Tsemaye Bob-Egbe as Leading Player – Photo Bonnie Britain Photography.

Any live theatrical experience in the autumn of 2020 is going to be tinged with a profound sense of gratitude. That we have managed to gather and be entertained – thanks to producers, creatives and cast who bring new depth to the term ‘trouper’ with all its ‘show-must-go-on’ notions of persistence and ingenuity – is still something of a wonder. Whilst the Bridge Theatre is leading the way indoors by bringing big names to monologue performances with deliberate partial capacity, the Garden Theatre at the Eagle Pub of Vauxhall embraces the possibilities of an outdoor space to create a feeling much like many of the courtyards at the Edinburgh Fringe whilst delivering musical theatre – proper musical theatre – which, given public singing is considered a suspect activity nowadays, feels thrilling just to be there! The garden setting enables a sense of ambiance that, whilst clearly carefully marked-out and marshalled, I enjoyed more than being dotted and distanced in a cavernous interior theatre space (at which I also felt gratitude, but definitely a kind of loneliness from the lost congregational quality).

Somehow the Eagle Pub venue manages to make all the rigmarole of having your temperature checked and providing contact-tracing details feel like the first phases of a sacred ritual whilst gracefully and cheerfully executing their duties. The energy and appreciation of the audience is palpable, even if the bottom two-thirds of their expressions are concealed by masks. In this context, it feels a clever choice for Lambco Productions to have selected Pippin for enactment outdoors with its ‘rule of six’ cast size and shortened run-time. As the play takes place in a semi-mystical historical setting of battlefields and interior imaginations, staging it outside in-the-round works. The physicality of the cast, costumed by David Shields in Summer-of-Love hippy chic, creates many a pleasing tableau and the absence of scenic machinery only adds to the economy and focus of the production. Indeed, with this young, muscular and dance-disciplined cast, there is something sculptural about the staging and it succeeds. The only regret I have is that I longed for raked seating or a bit of scaffolding to add more height to the ‘stage’ because certain sightlines from downstage audience-right are tricky with the girders that are part of the garden’s structural integrity.

Any production of Pippin will call forth the ghost of Bob Fosse who directed and choreographed the original 1972 Broadway debut to significant acclaim. Stephen Dexter’s production, choreographed by Nick Winston, preserves some of the dark, sexy, ironic and iconic aspects that distinguished the Fosse original whilst offering closeness in place of scale. For example, as we learn ‘War is a Science’, Dexter and Winston deliver a tight soft-shoe number with bayonets as vaudeville canes rather than a Broadway chorus line and it works. In the second act, the audience shrieks in delight at the balletic leaps delivered, particularly by Henry Francis (Lewis/Theo) and Ryan Anderson in the titular role. Throughout, this production makes a virtue of what it does have: intimacy, youth and the great outdoors.

This show is also a showcase of some exciting young and emerging talent. Tsemaye Bob-Egbe (Leading Player) has impressive pipes that makes you forget you’re basically on a roundabout on the A202! Joanne Clifton (Fastrada/Bertha) shows major dance chops as she works the space in a range of styles. Tanisha-Mae Brown as Pippin’s love interest, Catherine, impressively makes her professional debut and is a triple-threat to watch. The three male cast members, Anderson, Francis and Dan Krikler (Charles), are equally as watchable and magnetic; hitting the notes, sticking the landings and adding more audience gratitude to the evening.

Serving hit number after hit number, there is no question that Pippin will have you humming at least something on the way home. With its exploration of disillusionment and political power, it may seem an apt choice for the modern age. However, the book actually feels a bit dated. For all its anti-establishment trappings, its story is essentially vanilla and conservative: entitled prince is unfulfilled, tries lots of stuff but the answers do not exist via external validation and actually we still need the grown-ups to run things. I, therefore, would not recommend any production of Pippin as a manual for political engagement or the road to enlightenment. But who cares? This production is an expressway of musicality, physicality and up-close enchantment; in other words: it’s a great ride.

4 stars

Review by Mary Beer

We’ve got magic to do… Just for you, We’ve got miracle plays to play…’
Producers of ‘Pippin’ at London’s exciting new outdoor theatre venue, The Garden Theatre at The Eagle in Vauxhall, have released production images ahead of its 2 press performances this week on Thursday 17 and Friday 18 September.

Featuring an exceptional cast of West End performers, ‘Pippin’, extended due to overwhelming demand. It now runs until Sunday 11 October.

After launching with the sold-out, critically acclaimed musical ‘Fanny and Stella’ – which also extended its run twice due to overwhelming public demand – The Garden Theatre at The Eagle presents an exciting new production of the Broadway musical about a prince learning the true meaning of glory, love and war…

‘Pippin’ is an iconic and unforgettable musical masterpiece. It features an infectiously unforgettable score, including ‘Magic to Do’ and ’Corner of the Sky’, from four-time Grammy winner, three-time Oscar winner and musical theatre giant Stephen Schwartz (‘Wicked’, ‘Godspell’), who has given his blessing to perform the show for the first time ever with an ensemble cast of six.

Cast:
Ryan Anderson (Pippin)
Tsemaye Bob-Egbe (Leading Player)
Tanisha-Mae Brown (Catherine)
Joanne Clifton (Fastrada/Bertha)
Harry Francis (Lewis/Theo)
Dan Krikler (Charles)

‘Pippin’ has a first class creative team led by director Steven Dexter, with choreographer Nick Winston, musical director Michael Bradley, designer David Shields, lighting designer Richard Lambert and casting by Anne Vosser.

It is produced by Peter Bull for LAMBCO Productions.

Originally Produced on the Broadway stage by Stuart Ostrow
Directed on the Broadway stage by Bob Fosse
2013 Broadway revival directed by Diane Paulus
Theo ending originally conceived in 1998 by Mitch Sebastian

Performed by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe) Limited

Please note: face masks or coverings must be worn throughout the performance by socially-distanced audience members.

LISTINGS INFORMATION
Peter Bull for LAMBCO Productions
presents
‘Pippin’
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Roger O. Hirson
Directed by Steven Dexter

The Garden Theatre
at The Eagle
349 Kennington Lane
London SE11 5QY

Tuesday 8 September – Sunday 11 October
The performance is 90mins (approx)
with a 5 minute pause
The Garden Theatre at The Eagle follows Government guidelines in its operations
Social Distancing is in place with seat allocations by the theatre staff
The venue is outdoors
http://www.gardentheatre.co.uk/

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Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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