Pippin at Charing Cross Theatre
Pippin (Ryan Anderson) is destined for more than an ordinary life – something totally fulfilling that will give him pure, true happiness. He’s the eldest son of King Charles of Charlemagne (played by Daniel Krikler), and he’s searching for a grand purpose beyond the mundane everyday, but it’s not easy. He tries going to war and kills the enemy, but feels empty and lost. He goes to the country and engages in various flings, but feels unfulfilled. He tries becoming king, an artist, a priest and a family man, but constantly feels like there’s something missing. At every turn, he is guided by the Leading Player (Ian Carlyle) – a charismatic, larger-than-life potential figment of his imagination, who wants to lead him towards a fiery, spectacular climax.
Charing Cross Theatre’s version of Pippin has a 60s flower child aesthetic, with fringed waistcoats, tie-dyed vests and jeans decorated with peace signs. A large, psychedelic flower is painted in the middle of the stage, while huge dreamcatchers hang from the ceiling. Hippy-style drapes line the walls and the smell of incense wafts. The 60s vibe always works well for this show, partly due to the anti-war sentiments and free love undertones, but also because it creates a juxtaposition – the bright, colourful and friendly exterior masks a dark objective. Pippin is a surreal, timeless musical that breaks the fourth wall almost straight away. The audience are part of the show, and are early on given a clue that Pippin doesn’t seem to be aware of, which gives them a sense of being accomplices.
It may be because people are simply happy to be back at the theatre, but there is a real sense of joy in this performance. The actors are faultless; the choreography is perfectly timed, the singing is incredible (Ian Carlyle in particular is outstanding), the stage presence and attention to detail are mesmerising, and the lighting is perfectly aligned with the changing scenes. Everything just works perfectly.
This musical doesn’t often get the credit it deserves: it is one of the most intelligent, existential and multi-layered pieces of theatre on the stage. Pippin is a story about mental health and the human condition just as much as it is a fun, surreal musical. It is dark, it makes the viewer think, and it sticks with them. When it’s done well, it’s very, very good, and this version is almost flawless. An unreserved recommendation to go and get tickets – there’s magic to do.
Photos: Edward Johnson
Pippin is at Charing Cross Theatre from 30th June until 14th August 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.