The Garden Theatre at The Eagle
4 Stars ****
Absolutely Loved PIPPIN at The Garden Theatre at The Eagle in Camberwell.
The fabulous cast photos by Bonnie Britain photography perfectly capture the essence and joy of Steven Dexter’s storytelling and smart comedic direction. Performed by a fantastic triple threat cast it is all about the characters they play and the stories they tell with joyous, sparkling choreography from Nick Winston full of detail, bravado and zest.
After 6 months of lockdown, meltdown and worry, PIPPIN is the perfect antidote, enabling us to literally escape into the magic of theatre for a couple of hours. A tiny garden space at the back of a pub has been converted into a small but perfectly formed theatre space, already discovered by patrons of the previous recent sold-out production here, FANNY and STELLA.
Steven Schwartz originally wrote an early version of PIPPIN in 1967 (then called PIPPIN, PIPPIN)) aged just 19, but it was a completely new script and score that made it to Broadway a few years later in 1972 with a book by Roger O’Hirson, choreographed and directed by Bob Fosse (for which he won a Tony for Best Direction of a Musical).
PIPPIN is a young medieval prince who desperately wants to discover and understand the meaning of life and love, glory and war ~ this perfectly resonated with the message of the Flower Power generation of the 60s & 70s who rejected the shallow values of material success and ambition, but championed a return to nature, love, simplicity and ordinary life.
David Shields’ effective set is the Garden courtyard itself full of large plants, fairy lights, a few other strands of light bulbs that change primary colour, bright psychedelic wall hangings. It’s simple and effective, strips the show right back to its core with a cast of just six playing multiple roles (very well) and it’s memorable 70s-inspired songs ~ it could almost be a spin-off of HAIR the Musical.
PIPPIN draws us in from the start with an evocative and enticing opening number in ‘Magic ToDo’ introducing our cast of players who promise unlimited escapism, illusion, intrigue, sex and wit. Who could resist?!
This is a strong cast and all shine throughout. Tsemaye Bob-Egbe as our narrator/leading player is extremely compelling with a particularly beautiful voice and mesmeric presence. I also especially loved Ryan Anderson as Pippin who manages to take the audience sympathetically with him throughout, even when Pippin is less that sympathetic! A wonderful heart-on-your-sleeve, multi-layered authentic performance and a powerful voice that rings out in ‘Corner of the Sky’ early on and carries on throughout. His dancing is also tremendous ~ a real triple threat dynamo! Joanne Clifton’s comedic instincts and delivery playing wicked shop-a-holic step mum Fastrada and mad but wise Grandma Bertha, had the audience in gales of laughter, and she also had perfect command of us in ‘No Time at All’ as she ordered us to join in and sing and then not sing at her command (we were all wearing masks so very covid secure!). Harry Francis is a perfect thick-as-two-short-planks half-brother with limitless energy, Tanisha-Mae Brown lovely as Catherine and Dan Krikler as wicked despotic king makes the most of his ‘only solo’ (which he makes sure we know!) in ‘War is a Science’. This brilliant cast of six work effortlessly together and complement each other perfectly, under the competent and engaging Musical Direction of Michael Bradley.
Dexter’s production gets to the essence of Pippin very successfully. There is nowhere to hide and the cast either do or die. In this small Garden Theatre they weave a spell, tell a powerful story and brazenly tug at our heartstrings. They make us gasp in astonishment at the end! Dexter said he wanted to be both bold and sensible so with no big set possible and no big budget available, he has instead brilliantly concentrated on the real essence of theatre which is storytelling by a fabulous group of actor/singer/dancers. No helicopters, revolving stages, pyrotechnics or spectacle.
Simply joyous, energised, witty and startling storytelling.
This is wonderful artistic vision and bravery!
And the story is told wonderfully by a super-talented cast unafraid to have genuine fun and engage an audience up close and personal.
Transported back to 1972 ! Peace, Love, Man!
Book YOUR tickets here: http://www.gardentheatre.co.uk/
PIPPIN is running until the 11th October 2020
Photos by Bonnie Britain Photography