Friday, 18 September 2020

REVIEW: Pippin at the Garden Theatre

The Garden Theatre was one of the first venues to stage a live theatrical production with Fanny and Stella, with more shows popping up and more announcements being made every day they haven’t stopped and they continue their season with a newly staged version of Stephen Schwartz Pippin. 

I last saw this show at the Southwark Playhouse in the transfer production from the Hope Mill Theatre, being a huge fan of this particular version I was excited to see another interpretation of this interesting piece. 

As I said before in my review of Fanny and Stella, the venue and the staff are doing everything they possibly can to make this a safe and comfortable experience for all of their patrons. All staff have protective masks on and the bar is covered with screens, they’ve sure stepped up their game since my last visit! The bar itself has a really great atmosphere, made even better by people eager and excited to see some live theatre. The staff are all so polite and accommodating and the venue should really be proud of their front of house team. 

When you enter the theatre you are instantly transported to the world of the show, the smell of incense and the sound of 60’s music mixed with news broadcasts immediately sets the scene. Putting the show in the context of the ’60s was an interesting and brave choice, I’m not sure it was completely justified within the production but it certainly made sense most of the time. I may have felt like some choices in this production may not have completely worked but they sure committed to every single one of them and for that I commend them. 

The production within a production really resonated with me in our current situation, in a time where the arts are really trying to fight for our jobs, careers and place in this world it reminds us of our need of live theatre. The fact that the players then go onto repeat the show with Theo at the end (from the 1998 production by Mitch Sebastian) shows us how theatre will keep going, no matter what comes in its way. 

The show is choreographed by Nick Winston who manages to balance the 60’s setting and the original Bob Fosse choreography incredibly well, at times the show was slightly over choreographed in the small space but the cast are incredibly talented and even though you may not be able to see some of the choreography if you’re not on the front row the cast sell it with all they have. 

Ryan Anderson plays the title character in the show and he manages to take a character that is written with not a lot of personality and makes him vulnerable but also strong. That along with his incredible vocals he’s a wonderful Pippin. 

The leading player, famously changed to being a female role by Patina Miller in the 2013 Broadway revival, was played by Tsemaye Bob-Egbe. I feel she really settled into the role in act 2, when the character shows a little more sternness, her confidence in the role was very clear and the presence was fantastic. I just wanted that to be established straight away rather than later on in the piece. 

Joanne Clifton doubles up as Pippins Stepmother Fastrada and his Grandmother, Bertha, much like the Hope Mill theatre production. She shows real skill in these character roles, her Bertha was especially funny with her comic timing and audience interaction being a real highlight. She also embodies the Fosse style of the show really wonderfully, I’d love to see her play Roxie Hart in Chicago someday. 

Dan Krikler has the smaller role of Pippins father which he plays with strength and an almost sarcastic attitude which really works. He really stands out in the ensemble numbers as well, his voice is very powerful and is someone you are naturally drawn to on stage. 

This show brings Tanisha-Mae Brown her professional debut, her first job from graduating and she really does a wonderful job. She brings her youthful energy to the character of Catherine but also plays the motherly side so well. I think with this being a slightly cut down version to fit into 90 minutes we lose a bit of the relationship between Pippin and Catherine, but Brown and Anderson have a very sweet connection on stage. 

As Lewis and Theo, we have the incredibly talented Harry Francis, he moves so well and plays this style like he’s been dancing it all his life. He is an incredible dancer. For someone who has mostly played in big theatres he adapts to the smaller space very well and you can see everything in his eyes. 

The show as a whole was enjoyable, for me there were some problems with the concept and I wasn’t completely sold on it. This is also a show that I think would really benefit from having a larger cast, even though the production did well with staging I think just wanted something extra. 

Review by Mark Swale 

Rating: ★★★ 

Price of Ticket: £20.00 + £1.08 booking fee 

Pippin plays at The Garden Theatre until the 11th October 2020. 

Photo credit: Bonnie Britain Photography

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