Hidden down a backstreet in Ancoats, you would be forgiven for having not yet discovered Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre, which is located in an old Victorian Mill. After reading this though, there's no excuse to deny its knowledge. So get down there for an enjoyable evening of fabulous theatre in cosy surroundings.
It's not often a new theatre comes on the scene. Hope Mill Theatre has only been open around 18 months, and it's already something very special. Having already achieved two coveted Manchester Theatre Awards for Special Achievement and for its production The Trial in 2016, it's definitely one to watch.
This new addition to Manchester's theatre-base has managed to come up with something completely new; a more laid back approach to a trip to the theatre. There is no need to show any tickets; just give your name at the bar to be ticked off the list. Help yourself to water from the bar. Not had a chance to grab a bite to eat? No worries. The bar offers quick, tasty pizzas which can be ordered up to half an hour before a show. As always, we had run out of the house late, so we got a chance to test this. The pizzas only took ten minutes to arrive, leaving plenty of time to eat and enjoy a glass of wine before heading in to watch Hope Mill Theatre's latest offering, Pippin.
I was intrigued, as we were passed red playing cards and informed that people with red cards would be entering first. I was also a little worried. Would this mean we were going to be dragged on stage, become part of the show? (I needn't have worried - it was just part of the magic of the night).
The cosy bar and intimate seating don't prepare you for the impact of the show you are about to be presented with. I am more used to seeing low-budget, small cast experimental productions in this sized space. Pippin however is a full-on musical, from musical theatre composer Stephen Schwartz, most famous for his hit Broadway musical Wicked. It first premiered on Broadway in 1972, although it only ran for five years before closing. However, in 2011, the musical had its first major revival and has appeared at many regional theatres since.
Pippin tells the fictional account of the life of the son of the king Charlemagne during the Middle Ages. The audience joins Pippin in his quest to find fulfilment after leaving education. As he fights in the King's army, dallies with women, and eventually finds love, he worries he will never achieve his full potential.
Director Jonathan O'Boyle has created a powerful, thought-provoking performance of an exciting musical which is as relevant today as it was in 1972. The impact of the final scenes of the show is uncomfortable and dramatic - just wait for that grand finale. Apparently, there are two endings in existence O'Boyle opted for the newest ending, and I'm so glad he did.
Jonathan Carlton plays the extremely likeable Pippin impeccably. Although his character carries the arrogance and ignorance of youth, he means well and the audience fully empathises with him, as he desperately tries to find his way. When he is on stage with the Players, he seems somewhat clumsy and unsure footed. In contrast, Leading Player, Genevieve Nicole is incredibly sure of herself, taking centre stage as she directs proceedings. The contrast works beautifully.
Pippin's loveable character is in juxtaposition with his short-tempered father King Charles (delightfully played by Rhidian Marc), gold-digging stepmother Fastrada (Mairi Barclay) and stepbrother (Lewis Bradley Judge).
Mairi Barclay is reasonable as stepmother Fastrada, but it is as Pippin's grandmother Berthe that she shines, inviting the audience to sing along to No Time at All as she hilariously struts around the stage.
Tessa Kadler's performance of widow and mother Catherine competently captures the unpretentiousness of her character, as she slowly creeps into Pippin's life. Scott Hayward, who plays Catherine's young boy Theo, skilfully shows the boy's innocence through his performance. The scene between Pippin and Theo as they try to revive a dead duck is both humorous and endearing.
Choreography from William Whelton is edgy at times, beautiful at others, and stunning to watch when the players are performing as a whole (played by Ellie Seaton, Andrew Halliday and Olivia Faulkner).
Dotted through the show are magical tricks, which all reference back to the opening number, Magic to Do. So all I can say is to let Pippin do its magic.
A trip to see Pippin is well worth it. It is playing at Hope Mill Theatre until 23 September, so catch it before it's gone. To find out more about the theatre, visit www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk. It is located close to Holt Town Metrolink station, and also has a free car park.