Southwark Playhouse, London.
The score and lyrics(by by Stephen Schwartz) for this 1972 Broadway musical about Pippin, the holy fool son of the Emperor Charlemagne, are a delight, but as so often it is the book (by Roger O Hirsch) that lets it down.
Although it was a hit back then on Broadway – the director was Bob Fosse whose touch was almost always golden – it lasted a mere 85 performances when it arrived in London the following year. Revived in a revamped version directed by Jonathan O’Boyle at the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester and praised by some, it now turns up in London.
The problem is not his changes – the medieval travelling players of the original have been turned into a troop of Victorian music hall artistes – but the fact that it is performed so loudly that words get drowned and songs get bellowed and there is never a quiet moment proves fatal.
Pippin, having murdered his autocratic Dad, starts being all democratic and giving the peasants land, cutting taxes and putting the aristocracy in its place – until he finds out this does not work, whereupon he gets Dad restored to life and goes off into the world seeking the meaning of life. This turns out to be a widow who farms, has an annoying child, and who teaches him how to enjoy being alive.
The plot is claptrap of the highest order, best ignored. To be fair, the cast goes through its paces with zest, Genevieve Nicole, in a superb black Basque, slaps her thighs to the manner born as the leading player, Jonathan Carlton as the annoying Pippin sings sweetly, and the chorines high kick alarmly. Mairi Barclay, who plays his worldly-wise grandmother and gets a terrific point number “No Time At All” to deliver, has been allowed to over-act so grossly that it is destroyed. Director O’Boyle has a heavy hand.
While the show does not sink with all hands the pleasures it has to offer – the very good score and words – get overwhelmed by the racket created by the sound designers.