Garden Theatre, London – until
After six months of a world with no in person theatre, it feels almost foreign to see a stage in front of you with real life performers, performing real life music, but ever so slowly it’s becoming the norm again. Well, the new, socially distanced norm.
The Garden Theatre in Vauxhall is paving the way for the reopening and reconfiguring of venues as one of the first to put on productions in this post-lockdown world. The latest in their programme being Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin; the tale of a boy trying to prove he’s extraordinary as he finds his place in the world.
A show which often excels by involving the audience could be a strange option given the regulations, but the cast does an outstanding job of making you feels as though you’re getting a personal performance and that you’re part of the story, without being too close. The team of “players” who are often shown as circus performers, are in this production, a hippie tribe who are telling the tale of young Pippin. Together they weave a story of drama and excitement which feels truly uplifting and joyous during these unpredictable times.
Thanks to Steven Dexter’s direction, this is a production which highlights all the wonderful parts of fringe theatre and Nick Winston’s choreography is overwhelming in all the best ways. Bursting from all nooks and crannies every movement feels both precise and free and it’s amazing how much power has been fit into such a small space. Plus, the way so many dance styles (including wonderful homages to Bob Fosse) flow into one another, is truly sensational to experience.
The title role is taken on expertly by Ryan Anderson who relentlessly showcases his brilliant vocals and outstanding dance ability, whilst making Pippin a multi-faceted, endearing, earnest and infuriating character. His renditions of ‘Corner of The Sky’ and the motif versions which are consequently peppered throughout are beautiful and controlled oh so well.
Pippin’s glamorous, manipulative “normal” stepmother is played excellently by Joanne Clifton who also takes on the role of the sweet and sassy Grandmother, Berthe. Each moment of Clifton’s stage time is completely electrifying. Whether she’s ad-libbing hilariously or leading the audience in a singalong she finds a way to completely draw the audience in.
It would be shameful to not mention the rest of the cast who bubble with energy throughout. Harry Francis is playfully enjoyable as the self-obsessed bother Lewis and sweet Theo who longs for a father figure and also provides vocals which stand out due to their exceptional power and mastery.
As Charlemagne Dan Krikler is dominant and impressive and his Gilbert and Sullivan-esque solo is a right treat; he leaves you wanting more from him once his individual moments end . Tsemaye-Bob Egbeis takes on the role of the Leading Player with ease and freedom. Her vocals soaring above the sounds of passing busses and her movement around the stage oozing authority. Completing the cast, Tanisha-Mae Brown thrives in the intimate moments of the show and is in beautiful contrast to the more high-octane, over the top moments of the story.
The only downside to this production is the sometimes questionable approach to social distancing. While the staff are brilliant and it appears lots of measures have been put in place such as temperature checks, table service, copious amounts of hand sanitizer and social distancing before the show, the actual auditorium is somewhat cramped. Seats are very close together which it does feel strange when everything else is so organised. Whilst the audience does only seat 50, it would perhaps be better to have even fewer seats for the moment.
Despite this, the terrific cast of triple threats make this bittersweet, upbeat and consistently enjoyable musical a must see (covid permitting, of course). There’s magic to do and the Garden Theatre are certainly doing the most they can in these crazy circumstances to do it.
Photos by Bonnie Britain Photography