Pippin, Menier Chocolate Factory, London (3/5)
Wednesday 07 December 2011
This is going to take some explaining, so bear with me. Pippin is a musical of bouncy, Seventies pop vintage, the score and lyrics by Stephen (Godspell; Wicked) Schwartz.
The idea is that we are watching a troupe of actors as they put on a show about the eponymous undergraduate son of Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperor, and his misdirected search for a truly significant life. “I've got to be/Where my spirit can run free/Gotta find my corner of the sky” is how he expresses his mission in the most- reprised and catchiest of the songs. The piece has a dodgy Leading Player and is so wilfully anachronistic that it makes the Haymarket's Lion in Winter look like the last word in furrowed fidelity to the medieval mindset.
Tricksy enough? Well, you'd have thought so. But that's not the half of it, or even the tenth, in Mitch Sebastian's startlingly bold – and deafening – revival at the Menier. Pippin (excellent Harry Hepple) is re-imagined as a geek who, shades of Tron, gets sucked into a quest-type computer-game. The bare walls of the theatre teem with restlessly inventive, mind-blowing graphics (designed by Timothy Bird) that simulate everything from dizzying Gothic naves to dazing Escher-like visual puzzles. No longer strolling players, the company is comprised of mutants who perform jerky Fosse-for-robots choreography. The prospective girls in Pippin's life ogle him from porn webcams (“u r the nicest boy I've talked 2”). One moment it's Clockwork Orange-meets-Cabaret via Duran Duran; the next it's tweeting on Twitter.
Imagine The Fantasticks relocated to 2090 and set in a suicide chat-room run by androids. It feels that surreal. There are some definite advantages to the techno-approach. It makes the warped agenda of Matt Rawles's psychopathically smiling narrator seems all the more mountingly Mephistophelean. And it means that when Pippin finally comes to his senses and realises that the answer lies in the simple love of Carly Bawden's very touching Catherine and her son, the return to the bare human basics in a denuded theatre feels like truly a vertiginous plunge. Throughout, Harry Hepple sings well and is a sympathetic presence, recognisably of the same species as the audience. The disadvantage is that the emphasis on “levels” in a computer game highlights how the narrative progression in this show is too often arbitrary and lacking in tension. I admire the production's flair and chutzpah. I'm not sure that I could sit through it again.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling