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Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Pippin, the tale of the son of ninth century Emperor Charlemagne, catapulted into the 1970s by Stephen Schwartz's Broadway musical, is again dragged forwards into the modern computer age with Mitch Sebastian's "high concept" Menier Chocolate Factory revival.

The audience steps into another world the second it passes the auditorium's metal sliding door, to the poster-clad bedroom of young Pippin, Harry Hepple, installed behind a computer screen from the off.

Into the theatre itself - rotated off centre so the grey back walls of the stage are a long, projection-ready L shape - we enter Timothy Bird's elaborately constructed computer game, an entirely engineered reality of "conceptual design".

In the title role Hepple sings Pippin with a pure, lyrical and fluid voice. His "Corner of the Sky", is the piece's redeeming feature, thread through the musical, his voice fits the part beautifully. Appearing alongside him, Matt Rawle as the Leading Player and malevolent master of ceremonies never quite possesses the required charisma.

Frances Ruffelle is strong as meddling Essex step-mother Fastrada, her "Spread A Little Sunshine" perhaps the most fully-formed number of the entire show. Carly Bawden reinvigorates the second act, gracefully floating in on pointe to open Pippin's mind to a world of sex and lust. There are also some nice, tightly drilled Fosse dance routines, the choreographer's moves recreated by Chet Walker. But overall the virtual environment seems to mute the underlying production's dramatic impact rather than enhance it.

Bird immerses the action in a variety of computer-generated realms. At rest the world is apparently constructed from green lasers, later an electronic cathedral, cartoon forest and digital battleground, compete with 'power-ups' and 'health bars'. With an ensemble clad for the most part in grey lycra, the aesthetic invokes the 1982 feature film Tron, indeed Pippin has a poster for the film's recent remake on his bedroom wall.

There is no denying that it isn't fiendishly clever, but by the time that the roar of the projectors overhead has passed and we reach the finale in the stark floodlight of "reality", the strong leading performance from Hepple feels like it has had to cut through techno distractions, whilst some of the patchier cast simply hide behind it.

Maybe the greatest problem here is that there is no turmoil to be had, when we have been convinced so successfully that it's really all just a game.


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