The Menier Chocolate Factory's latest show is a revival of Pippin, a coming-of-age tale written in the 70s, about a prince in the Middle Ages, updated for today’s twitter age. Confusing? Yes. In fact, this show is bonkers.
Our protagonist is the son of Charlemagne, done with university, suffering a bad case of the blues. He's unsure what to do with his life, but is looking for "something completely fulfilling." So far, so Avenue Q.
But this production has gone concept. Mitch Sebastian has created Pippin the musical as computer game: a mix of Matrix and Tron. There’s chatrooms, twitter feeds, and nods to Street Fighter, all wrapped up in classic Fosse choreography (think angular jazz hands and bowler hats), set in what looks like a nightmarish Escher painting, with some stunning singing and a slightly disturbing finale.
We've read a few other opinions of the show, and we're sad to say many other reviewers have failed to get past level 1. So we've put together these gaming cheat codes to help you through.
Level 1 – I’m unsure about the hero. Cheat code: HRRYSGR8
Harry Hepple is fantastic as the man-boy Pippin, despite what other critics have said. Part pre-renaissance Gary Barlow, part bloke you sit next to at work, part voice of an angel. We'd go on a quest with him anytime.
Level 2 - What about our hero's brother? Cheat code: BLMEFOSS
Bob Fosse's fault, we're afraid. Sure, the choreography is remarkable in places, but when will the Bowler Hat Dance just die? David Page plays Pippin's brother Lewis as Alan Cumming at a Bob Fosse convention, and there are times when homage threatens to descend into parody.
Level 3 - Help, I've been asked to sing along! Cheat code: LGHTNUP
Did you forget your sense of humour? On the night you went to see an avant-garde, high-concept musical? Really? Keeping that London culture connoisseur's snooty upper lip firmly closed will do you no good at all. When the delightfully game Louise Gold (as Berthe, Pippin's grandmother) asks you to join in with her, try it. Who knows, singing might be one of those fulfilling things Pippin's been searching for. After all, the rest of the people on stage seem to rather enjoy it.
Level 4 - Where's my cheesy finale? Cheat code: MSSTHEPNT?
Some critics have talked about the overwhelming sentimentality of Pippin. Were they at the same show? Yes, the songs are schmaltzy, but we felt this production ended with on a pretty dark note. When Pippin gets nowhere with his quest, the narrator (a hairy, toothy Matt Rawle) turns super-Mephistophelean, encouraging our hero to top himself to create a big, flashy finale. Were we the only ones to see suicide chatrooms, cyber bullying, even suicide bombers in this dark reimagining?
Pippin definitely won't be to everyone's taste. But we rather enjoyed it.
Pippin is a the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street, London, SE1, until 25 February. It's suitable for children aged 12+. Tickets cost around £28. If you like bonkers musicals, you'll love it.