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.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits record low as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Germany sees 'visible rise' in support for far-right extremism in response to perceived 'Islamisation' of the West