Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory – December 17 2011

22 Dec

Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory is yet another example that fringe theatre often produces the most extraordinary shows. After a friend and I went to see Parade at the Southwark Playhouse we decided that we needed to see more fringe theatre. So, our next trip to London in mind we booked tickets for Pippin. Personally I had no idea what the show was about and the cast hadn’t even been announced at the time. All I knew was that the Menier Chocolate Factory so far had never disappointed me with its productions – and this was a chance to see something new which I’m always up for.

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So who or what is Pippin?
Pippin is a boy on a search for meaning and fulfillment. I know this is not a proper synopsis but seriously, I don’t think I should go into too much detail. After all I will urge all of you to go and see the show at the end of this blog post. 😉

What I can say is that I totally loved the way the story is transported into the world of cyberspace in this production of the show. The whole concept of dividing the plot between real life and a mix of computer games, Twitter and the like all wrapped up in Fosse style dancing and a quite disturbing ending is pure genius. I admit it did take a bit of getting used to especially as I entered the auditorium not knowing what to expect at all. I loved how you basically walk into the story (I do pity Harry Hepple though – he doesn’t even get a proper interval break… you’ll see what I mean when you watch the show).

It’s amazing how such a tiny venue like the Chocolate Factory manages to stage productions like this. The set was quite amazing and the space looked so much larger than the other times I’d been there.

As mentioned before the cast hadn’t been announced when my friend and I booked the tickets for the show. And I can safely say: If I didn’t had tickets already I would have booked some straight after the first glance on the complete cast list!

First of all there is Matt Rawle as the Leading Player. Matt is one of those performers that will catch my eye no matter what part he is playing. The man oozes charisma and he has the ability to include the audience in his performance throughout the whole show. It always feels like he is performing for you only. The part of the Leading Player gives Matt the chance to actually talk to the audience and he does so with such a natural charm that it’s hard to look anywhere else whenever he is on stage.

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I managed to tear my eyes away from Matt now and then (it wasn’t easy, I can honestly say that!) and this was thanks to everyone else in the cast. It was amazing to see so much talent on one stage in such an intimate performing space.

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Harry Hepple (Pippin) is definitely one to watch out for in the future. He’s got such a fantastic voice and is a completely natural actor.

I loved seeing David Page on stage again after such a long time. I still remember him playing the lead in the UK tour of Kiss me Kate years ago (a show I only went to see because of a friend in the cast in the first place – and I’m so glad I did because I totally loved the production). What an amazing dancer and absolutely perfect as Pippin’s brother Lewis (and this shows what a great actor he is because I’m absolutely positive he is nowhere near as shallow and self absorbed as the character he plays ;-).

Stuart Neal will always have the Lord of the Rings bonus – meaning: Everyone who has been in Lord of the Rings – the musical has bonus points in my judgment already. But I am happy to report Stuart doesn’t need that bonus. I loved seeing him as Theo (yes, there were a few Hobbit / Pippin like facial expressions but those totally fit the part) and I had no idea he was such a great dancer as well.

I admit I wasn’t too fond of Frances Ruffelle as Fastrada but that is probably just down to the fact that she is just one of the performers I can never warm to. She’s a good actress, had a nice voice and she’s good great comic timing – she’s just not for me.

Ian Kelsey as Charles (it took me ages to figure out where I’d seen him before…. It was Chicago, of course!), Louise Gold as Berthe and Carly Bawden as Catherine all do a fantastic job. I can’t say a bad thing about their performances.

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A special shout out has to go to the absolutely awesome ensemble in this show. Yes, the stage did appear larger than I remembered it to be but still, this is a small fringe venue. To dance in such a small space especially with a whole ensemble can’t be easy. Plus the choreography of this show definitely requires a lot of skill. And the guys and girls in the cast really did the whole piece justice. And I just have to say it here and now: Holly James is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen on stage! Seriously, the girl is stunning (and she’s an amazing singer and dancer as well). I’ve been lucky enough to see her in a few shows already (Hairspray, Hair and Shoes) and she always stood out – in a positive way, of course!

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So, if I haven’t done everything wrong at least some of you will now consider booking a ticket to see Pippin. And this will now be my final plug: Please, please, please do yourself a favour and watch this show! It’s got a fantastic cast, a great score, it’s interesting and a show you might not get the chance to see again anytime soon (in my eyes Pippin is a largely under-appreciated musical). So go see it now!

Pippin is running at the Menier Chocolate Factory until February 25 2012. For more info and to book tickets go to http://www.menierchocolatefactory.com .

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