With many US high schools at Edinburgh for the Fringe there is a large choice of youth musical theatre – but there are UK youth companies too and indeed local ones such as Forth Children’s Theatre (FCT). It’s true it was a long walk to get to them – but that’s my fault for not getting the convenient number 8 bus that stops right outside their venue. And it’s a journey I would recommend to others.
FCT have a wealth of experience and have been putting on musicals twice a year since 1979. This year – bravely – they chose Pippin, a Stephen Schwartz show from 1972 which owed much of its original success to the involvement of Bob Fosse. The show then largely disappeared although the success of the same composer’s Wicked has led to revivals in London in 2011 and in 2013 in the US, with talk of another London revival soon.
FCT are obviously in touch with such trends and presented an extremely impressive production in the round with a cast of 35 aged from 10 to 18 years. Director Hayley Scott, herself an alumnus of FCT, has created a clear reading of the text which made as much sense as can ever be made of this text and offered great opportunities to a range of young actors. Musical theatre production is very much of a group exercise however, and Musical Director Gus Harrower (exiled with his excellent band to a smaller hall next door) and inventive Choreographer Natasha Rose should be equally pleased with the outcome.
The design of the production was a strong point, the simple set, inevitable when performing in the round, being brought to life by a great many different costumes, particularly for the ensemble, who appeared in stylish black and white, in a selection of summery colours and in rustic hues and hessian. Costumes for the principals mostly paid only lip service to the historical setting, with only Charlemagne looking a little out of place in his cloak, which also enveloped him and left him little chance to use his arms effectively. Other than that small point, the costumes were a major bonus in this production, and seem to have been a team effort led by Susan King, Angie Caulfield and Diane Johnston.
In the lead role, Frankie Cusack was an earnest and forthright Pippin, working hard to make sense of this strange character and singing strongly. As his parents, Andrew Gill made much of a difficult role and Helen Hunter was a lively and watchable Fastrada, with an energetic portrayal of Lewis from Moray Mcconachie. In smaller roles, Isla Campbell was a great success as Pippin’s grandmother and, in the second act, Eilidh West was impressive as Catherine and the much younger Jojo Brassington had great stage presence as Theo.
There was one other principal role, that of the Leading Player who tells the story. Following the lead of the recent US production, a female actor was cast in the role, and Harmony Rose-Bremner is a name to watch. She totally owned the stage whenever she appeared but is also a generous performer when working with others. Swirling around her and the others, and singing and dancing with great authority and conviction, were the Ensemble. A great evening from a company with a record to be proud of.