“Never has a single musical been so sexy, funny, audacious, and chilling, all at the same time”

TDTC’s production of Stephen Schwartz’s ‘Pippin’ is nothing short of a spectacle, and one that was an absolute pleasure to behold. Never has a single musical been so sexy, funny, audacious, and chilling, all at the same time. It is clear that a great deal of hard work and talent went into this ambitious production, for which all involved must be commended. Credit is especially due to the co-directors Emily Phillips and Amy Shelmerdine, for taking on this hefty work with such mastery and professionalism. 

Even with its peculiar and somewhat random plot, this small, show-stopping cast made the audience’s job an easy and enjoyable one; there is no mistaking when one should have been following the activities of a travelling circus troupe or the fantastical events of their (the Players’) production. Set with Schwartz’s iconic songs, exciting magic tricks and illusions, and Hannah Lydon’s wonderfully cheeky and entertaining choreography, all of which were executed beautifully, this talented ensemble commanded the stage. If anything, this production gives *range*, treating us to everything from fabulous tap routines to more seductive and tantalising dance breaks. Pippin (Archie Collins) and Catherine (Mia Shambrook) had the audience stunned with their angelic voices throughout, sharing some beautiful moments of intimacy and quiet strength which only complemented their singing. This contrasts perfectly with the sheer comedy of the rest of the troupe: Lewis (Jo Price) provided hilariously camp hypermasculinity, reminiscent of his father’s character, Charlemagne (Olly Stanton), who was suitably patronising to both of his sons and presented a king not unlike Hamilton’s King George; Charlie Holliday embodies Pippin’s sly and comically promiscuous stepmother, Fastrada, wooing and enticing the audience while brilliantly showcasing her vocal dexterity and dance ability. Berthe (Vivienne Shaw) is somewhat of an older, sillier, and more glamorous spin on Fastrada. Her portrayal of this spicy grandma (as I’m not quite sure how else to put it) gives rise to a constant fit of giggles from the audience and even an amusing singalong, aided by Florence Lunnon’s projection of the lyrics for our ease of use. Theo (Eleanor Sumner) is another winning character who snuck hastily into our hearts; amidst her impressive dancing and singing, Sumner convincingly presents an impulsive and wholesome young boy who then proceeds to chill the audience right to the bone in an eerie turn of events which takes place in the Finale. The entire cast is evidently full to bursting with talent, but the Leading Player (Rhyen Hunt) must be given due recognition. Judging from their role in ‘Pippin’ alone, there is no denying that Hunt is a performer through-and-through. Right from the outset of the musical, the Leading Player is powerfully front and centre, leading the troupe with unbelievable agility, in song and in dance. Hunt’s theatrical prowess, as well as that of the rest of the cast, is clearly visible in the creepy, spine-chilling closing scene, which is so poignantly different to the rest of the show. I can safely say that I was blown away by Hunt’s presence on stage, especially alongside a brilliant ensemble. Bravo!

Cast aside, there is only thing left that needs saying: the set and staging of TDTC’s production is beyond phenomenal, and I expect that it will be a very long time before something of this scale and level of intricacy graces the Assembly Rooms Theatre again, if ever. I take my hat off to Oscar Scott, the Production Manager, for pulling off what I believe to be a long-time passion project of his; your efforts are well-spent, to say the very least. From the point of entry into the theatre, the audience is transported into a circus tent, with appropriately atmospheric lighting and luxurious red and blue draperies. Even more impressive than this is the speedy removal of the entire staging set in the Finale, leaving behind a haunted husk of a circus, whose skeletal nature fits beautifully, albeit eerily, with the musical’s shocking turn of events. I would say that this is the most magical part of the show, and if not for the spectacular ensemble, this is worth bearing witness to.

In short, drop everything you’re doing and go watch ‘Pippin’! Characterised by its rollercoaster of a plot, breathtaking harmonies and sassy dance interludes, it is not one to miss, which is hardly a surprise considering the star-studded cast and CPT who brought it to life. Save for some weakness in the orchestra who were occasionally lacking in a general sense of driving rhythm needed for this dance-heavy musical, they bravely tackled Schwartz’s admittedly difficult score, and in no way detracted from the magic and overarching air of showbiz which this production has to offer.  

By Charles Moscrop

Pippin is performing in the Assembly Rooms theatre until the 10th June

Photo credit: Tone Deaf Theatre Company