“For three nights in Drumcondra audiences witnessed magic” – Review: DCU Drama’s Pippin

by Bríon Hoban

Pippin the musical.

Every year DCU Drama stages a large and expensive musical. Every year the cast and crew face the unenviable task of topping the wonders performed by the previous production.

Pippin was performed for three nights in the St Pat’s Auditorium between the 20th and 22th of March. Those lucky enough to procure tickets witnessed a spectacle more impressive than any that had come before.

Telling the story of the first born son of Charlemagne, Pippin follows the hero’s quest to discover meaning in his life. His mantra, ‘There must be something more than this’, leads him to spurn power, wealth and eventually love.

Despite the running themes of existentialism, this is a production far more concerned with entertaining the audience. Trapeze acts, intricate dance routines and bawdy jokes are just some of the tools employed to do just that.

Kevin Cleary gives a breath-taking lead performance as the titular hero. A first year with impressive vocal range, he is an enrapturing presence from the first moment he steps out to greet the audience.

Regardless of the surrounding spectacle, all eyes are instinctively drawn to Cleary’s Pippin whenever he graces the stage. Convincing the audience that this is a young man with an extraordinary destiny is not at all a hard sell for Cleary.

Similarly riveting is the performance given by Hannah Rose as the play’s eventual saviour Catherine. It is a shame she is only gets to take centre stage in the play’s second act.

Pippin plays boldly with meta-textual elements, with the finale involving the literal tearing down of the set and the silencing of the orchestra, all serving to underscore the musical’s odd contradictions of tone. The trappings of spectacle, usually employed to delight an audience, are instead designed to unsettle the hero.

Another odd contradiction is that this is simultaneously the most risqué musical DCU Drama have performed in recent years, while also featuring a much less graphic sex scene than their previous two productions.

In fact, one marked criticism of the play is its questionable choice to portray two of the leading female characters as being incestuously inclined towards their son and grandson respectively.

This small discomfort is, however, a mark against the source material rather than this particular production. The strong performances of Aideen Ní Chonchúir and Maisie Gorman go a long way to alleviating this issue.

In fact the entire ensemble cast is strong across the board. Though a slightly smaller cast than recent DCU Drama musicals, they did not struggle to command the stage.

The play’s director Jack Reardon, its producer Kate Canavan and the rest of its production team have much to take pride in. For three nights in Drumcondra audiences witnessed magic.

Bríon Hoban