With exam season right around the corner, what better a way to take a much needed mid-week break from revision than a night at the theatre? This past Thursday, the 17th of November, I had the privilege of watching the St Andrews Musical Theatre Society’s production of the musical Pippin at The Byre Theater. Having been in a production of Pippin myself back in America in 2016, I was extremely intrigued to see another theatrical group’s interpretation of the show. This musical follows the titular Pippin, son of King Charlemagne, on his quest to find something ‘completely fulfilling’ to do with his life. The show is woven by the charismatic ‘Leading Player’ and their ensemble as they aid in telling the tale of Pippin’s various endeavours – war, leisure, social justice, kingship, and eventually love.
Having never attended a show at The Byre Theatre before, I was excited to explore this venue which I’d heard so much about. Upon entry, I was pleasantly surprised by the setup of the auditorium – with the stage at ground level and the seating protruding upwards, with each row slightly higher than the one in front of it. I personally find this layout to be superior to the stereotypical auditorium, which has the stage higher up and the seats all at the same level. I find that especially for a musical like Pippin, this theatre layout makes for a more immersive theatrical experience where the audience is truly engaged with the show.
Immediately following “Magic to Do”, the riveting opening number of the show, I knew I was in for a treat. I was stunned by the vocal power and charming stage presence of the Leading Player, played by Ben Anderson, and was equally as impressed with the energy and talent within the ensemble. Typically, I am used to seeing musicals with quite large ensembles, to the point where the whole stage is occupied by players. However, Pippin only utilised a handful of ensemble members – an aspect of the show I absolutely loved. With the vocal power coursing through the auditorium from the group numbers, you would’ve thought the ensemble was triple the size. There was no doubt in my mind that the ensemble, through their concise movement and energetic performance, put their all into this show.
As the show progressed, I found myself continuously impressed with the talent of the cast members. Jobim Ffrench, the actor portraying Pippin, perfectly encapsulated what I imagine the character to be like. From his characteristically accurate mannerisms and expressions to his profound vocals, Ffrench made the story of Pippin come to life. One thing that I found quite special about this show in particular is how each of the lead characters has their moment to shine with their own respective numbers. Daniel Heidland as King Charlemagne, Taylor Colbeth as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe, and Radhika Rohit as his stepmother Fastrada all absolutely brought the house down with their stellar performances in their respective solo numbers in Act One of the show. I quite appreciated the interpersonal connections between the actors within this show. Nothing felt forced, you could truly feel the authenticity coursing through the performers when it came to the on-stage portrayal of various relationships. Specifically, this came about in Act Two of the show with the introduction of the characters of Catherine and Theo, respectively played by Judith Somerville and Lily Bates. The talent of Somerville and Bates was truly evident in their accurate portrayal of an eccentric, widowed mother and her young son yearning to connect with Pippin and incorporate him into their family. Their scenes in Act Two were ever so pleasant and heart-warming to watch, and you could truly feel the character shift within Pippin between the acts.
As for the technical elements of this show, you could tell that everyone involved put their best foot forward to ensure that this show would run smoothly. I was very impressed with both the lighting and sound of the show. Contrary to popular belief, I think that light and sound are one of the most important elements in the quality of a show. Without efficient lighting and sound, some aspects of the magic of live theatre are taken away. It was fortunate then, that the lighting and sound quality at this performance of Pippin ran without almost any hiccups. All of the lighting cues seemed to be perfectly timed, with spotlights added where needed. As for the sound, the microphone quality on all of the actors seemed to be perfectly intact. If there ever was a (rare) instance where an actor’s mic seemed to be a little too low, the technical team swiftly would get on top of the issue. From an overall standpoint, the choreography, the band, and the set and props utilised within the show were nothing short of impressive. It was very clear to me that everyone involved in this production put their absolute all into putting on a great show, and made for a riveting evening at The Byre Theatre.