Freezing temperatures did nothing to deter a lively crowd from turning out to see Pippin’s debut at the Southwark Playhouse. The cold had overwhelmed the theatre’s heating system but the show took no time at all to warm up and we were distracted from discomfort right from the powerful opening number, writes Katie Kelly. 

The show follows the adventures of Emperor Charlemagne’s son as he seeks a ‘meaningful’ life. Along the way he samples all the things the world has to offer a young prince, vainglory in battle, easy sex, political power and domesticity. Nothing quite satisfies until the unexpected denouement.

Pippin might be the hero but the undoubted star of the show is Genevieve Nicole as the Leading Player. She is a huge force with a huge voice. Her acting range is as impressive as her vocals. She majors in insuperable sass but also minored completely convincingly in unexpected and touching brokenness when the story didn’t go her way. Very reminiscent of The Witch in ‘Into the Woods’.

Pippin himself was charming enough but never quite convinced. The somewhat confusing combination of the early medieval history being played out in Victorian vaudeville style took a while to bed in. The first half was musically and choreographically impressive but lacking emotional commitment. A scene between Emperor and Son suddenly broke through the superficiality and in an unexpected change of tone, grounded the performance in time for the interval.

As things settled down and the story unfolded in the second half, it all felt more coherent, though the music continued to be slightly too loud for comfort. This may well settle down as the show continues. Overall, Pippin packs quite a  punch despite having tons of energy, great vocal performances and some memorable tunes. If you enjoy musical theatre then this could be a treat.

Pippin is on at Southwark Playhouse,  77-85 Newington Causeway, SE1 6BD until March 24th. Times: Min-Sat 7.30pm; Tues & Sat matinees 3pm. Admission: £25, £20 concs. Phone: 0207 407 0234.