How do we find fulfilment? What makes a life worth living? These are the questions that Pippin tries to answer. With strong voices, strong dancing, cool tech and great design, the EUTC’s take on Stephen Schwartz’s Broadway musical is absolutely excellent. The only thing they’re missing is a cohesive plotline.
We enter the draughty Bedlam Theatre and find that we’re seated around the stage rather than in front of it. The house lights are up and the cast mill around in boiler suits, chatting with the audience and giving the impression that we’re a) backstage with them, b) about to watch a boxing match, and c) on a construction site. It’s effective, given that Pippin’s story has been elaborately planned out before him for the audience’s (and the cast’s) entertainment.
And entertain us they did! It’s clear how much the cast enjoy what they’re doing. Pippin is a funny, energetic show with plenty of hidden gems. These are scattered throughout: Gordon Stackhouse’s deadpan reactions to being hanged (twice), Erica Belton’s introduction of Charlemagne’s “power, power, power”. Everyone but Pippin (Rob Merriam) and the leading player (Hannah Robinson) play other roles, all the while in their boiler suits to emphasise the ‘constructed’ nature of the plot.
I cannot overstate the quality of the acting, singing, and dancing. The live band are incredibly talented, and are actually brought into the plot at moments – most memorable are Pippin’s attempts to play guitar to Catherine (Julia Weingaertner). The cast’s voices are continually impressive. Robinson gives a powerful performance that matches her headstrong and confident character; Merriam beautifully brings across Pippin’s theme song, ‘Corner of the Sky’, with a clear and unwavering voice that fills every hollow of the theatre space. The audience also particularly enjoyed Kirsten Millar’s performance as Thea, who brings across hilarity, raw sexual energy, and a good measure of grandmotherly love (a winning combination if you ask me).
With the audience sitting so close to the stage, the cast have to be extremely mindful of mistakes. While the choreography was excellent, and really brought across the constructed and malleable nature of the story, the cast sometimes lacked energy and fell out of sync. It remains, however, that this is an amateur company, and as it’s clear how much effort went in, it does not undermine the quality of the show.
Rivers belong where they can ramble
Eagles belong where they can fly
I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free
Gotta find my corner of the sky!
I couldn’t possibly write a review on this production without mentioning the truly outstanding use of tech and lighting. Red lights colour war scenes or Pippin’s (rather hilarious) orgy scene; spotlights remind us that we are witnessing the metatheatrical in action. When Pippin and Catherine ultimately decide to deviate from the narrative, Robinson calls for all the lights to go up, which turns Bedlam into an ordinary room. You would expect the actors to break character, and of course they don’t, which makes the decision all the more realistic.
Perhaps my only disappointment in this production is the actual storyline. I can’t fault the EUTC for this, but it remains that the story introduces a number of significant plot points that just don’t go anywhere. We’re introduced to King Charlemagne (Angus Bhattacharya), who dies and is conveniently resurrected; Pippin’s brother Lewis (Rory Bayliss-Chalmers) and stepmother Fastrada (Mia Tuxen) could be a potentially threatening duo but exist only for possibly-incestuous comic effect; Pippin himself becomes a revolutionary and then suddenly gives up.
To the ends of exploring Pippin’s desperation for a fulfilling and extraordinary life, these characters are effective in their effects on his psyche. In terms of actual continuity however, I was waiting for them to come back to give some sort of conclusion. Similarly, Pippin and Catherine are supposed to fall in love in spite of the narrator’s influences, but their relationship lacks believability as Pippin doesn’t seem to even like Catherine until the plot tells us that he must.
Still, these are faults in the writing alone, and do not in any way undermine the talent that was exhibited. The cast have great chemistry, they perform with enthusiasm, and they manage to strike that balance between comedy and darkness. There is far more that I could say, but I’ll leave it here. I left with the certainty that this cast love what they do, and do it well, and for that I cannot recommend this production enough.
PHOTOS: Andrew Perry