Friday, 8 September 2017

Pippin, Hope Mill Theatre 2/9/17

Once again Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment have come together to bring us a fabulous revival of one of the less high profile musicals, and it's an absolute treat.

Pippin concerns a young prince's search for his place in the world and in his society, with a band of travelling players leading us through his quest for meaning. With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, its core message is ambiguous and all the more interesting for it, making you think about what it is to find your own 'corner of the sky' and whether the journey to it is all it seems.

Productions at Hope Mill never fail to surprise me with their high production values in such an intimate space. I've no idea how the economics of theatre with this ambition, yet with an audience capacity of around 150 (by my dodgy interval estimation) works, but I am very happy that it does. For this production a thrust stage has been created with the audience on three sides, a dusty faded theatre archway is at one end, hay bales are frequently used as props, the players costumes have a slightly worn and ragtag feel, which all combines perfectly to suggest a travelling troupe that has descended on a town to spread a little twisted morality, magic and mayhem.

The extremely talented cast of ten, plus full band, deliver a corker of a show. In a production this intimate there is no place to hide, but every performance is detailed and complex, every voice superb, and the wonderful music fills the space. The cast interact with the audience making it feel even more special and unique, and it's great fun from start to finish.

Whilst this is a true ensemble piece with no weak links I will call out a few of its players for special mention. Johnathan Carlton as Pippin is a fine voiced lead who portrays the comedy and complexity of the character well. However, it is the ladies that tend to rule the roost in this production. Genevieve Nicole as Leading Player effortlessly commands the stage with a knowing wit, Tessa Kadler as Catherine balances light and shade well. But it is the wonderful Mairi Barclay as Fastrada / Berthe who threatens to steal the show, combining perfectly judged comic and clever characterisations with a fabulous voice.

Naughty, edgy, magical, frequently hilarious but with a dark undercurrent, this is an absolute treat of a show that I would happily see again (and again). A wonderful revival which I suspect may have a life beyond Hope Mill, which has deservedly become one of the most exciting and welcoming theatre spaces in the North if not the country.

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